Joe Biden Releases Ethics Agenda Amid Focus on Ukraine


WASHINGTON—Democratic presidential candidate

Joe Biden

released a series of ethics proposals Monday, looking to spotlight concerns about President Trump’s record while also addressing criticism about his son’s business dealings.

The former vice president’s ethics agenda, which comes ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic debate, is designed to reduce the influence of money in politics and curb the White House’s ability to interfere in government investigations. It includes a ban on lobbying by foreign governments; an expansion of lobbying and disclosure laws; and legislation that would require all candidates for federal election to disclose 10 years of tax returns. Mr. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking precedent with presidents and major-party candidates of the past several decades.

The plan was released a day after Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden said that he would step down from the board of a Chinese investment firm and not work for any foreign-owned company if his father is elected president. Mr. Trump has accused Hunter Biden of improperly making money in China and Ukraine off of his father’s name and position. The senior Mr. Biden has rejected the president’s allegations and defended his work fighting corruption in Ukraine.

Mr. Biden told reporters Sunday in Iowa that he would push to “build on the squeaky clean, transparent environment that we had in the Obama-Biden White House.”

Without mentioning Mr. Trump’s family members by name, Mr. Biden said that “no one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in meetings as if they’re a cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or foreign country.”

Mr. Trump’s daughter

Ivanka Trump

and son-in-law

Jared Kushner

both work in the White House, regularly traveling overseas on official business, while

Eric Trump

and

Donald Trump Jr.

run the family real-estate business, the Trump Organization. That business’s extensive overseas holdings, and payments from foreign visitors to U.S. and overseas hotels, have drawn scrutiny from congressional Democrats because of a provision of the Constitution that bars officeholders from receiving payments from foreign governments.

Mr. Biden said last week that he supported Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s July phone call with the new Ukrainian president, in which he asked the foreign leader to look into Mr. Biden and his son’s work in Ukraine. Hunter Biden sat on the board of energy company Burisma Group while his father oversaw anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

Democrats have accused Mr. Trump of abusing his power as president to benefit his re-election campaign by pressuring foreign powers to investigate a major political rival.

Hunter Biden is sitting for an interview with ABC News that will air Tuesday, which will mark his first televised comments on the matter.

Some of Mr. Biden’s leading Democratic rivals have made ethics reforms and fighting corruption priorities in their campaigns as well.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

would bar individual stock ownership by members of Congress, White House staff and federal judges, prohibit Americans from serving as lobbyists for foreign countries and mandate the release of tax returns by candidates for president and Congress.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

made fighting the influence of money in politics a key plank of his 2016 campaign and has continued to press for ethics changes, including a proposal released this month that would curb corporate money in politics and at the party’s national convention.

As he has said previously, Mr. Biden would also introduce a constitutional amendment to eliminate private funds from federal elections as a way of overturning the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited political expenditures.

Mr. Biden, a longtime advocate of public financing of elections, would propose legislation to provide public matching funds for small-dollar donations to federal candidates as part of the constitutional amendment effort.

His plan also includes an executive order that would bar any member of an administration or White House staff from obstructing or improperly influencing any Justice Department investigation and empower the department’s inspector general to investigate any allegation of improper partisan influence on DOJ prosecutions. Democrats have criticized Attorney General

William Barr

for, among other things, his handling of former special counsel

Robert Mueller’s

findings on Trump 2016 campaign connections to Russia.

Lastly, Mr. Biden’s plan includes creating a Commission on Federal Ethics, a government agency that would oversee federal anticorruption and ethics laws. The agency would be able to enforce its own subpoenas and refer matters for criminal investigations to the Justice Department.

Write to Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com

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