President Trump has come under fire for a whistleblower complaint that alleges the president repeatedly urged Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky to work with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in a July phone call. Much of the coverage of the whistleblower complaint has focused upon Trump’s potential impropriety. Some Democrats, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), have hysterically claimed that impeachment may be the only answer to Trump’s refusal to make the complaint and phone call transcript public.
This framing leaves out a few key pieces of information that, if included, would paint a vastly different picture. For instance, buried halfway through this CNN article is the fact that the complaint, filed with the intelligence inspector general, was deemed by the administration to have failed to meet the reporting requirements of the intelligence whistleblower law.
Why? Because the complaint was based on hearsay. According to an official briefed on the matter, the whistleblower “didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications.” Instead, the information in the complaint apparently came from “learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work.” This fact is why, despite the inspector general signing off the complaint as “urgent and credible,” the director of national intelligence did not forward the complaint to Congress.
Furthermore, much of the discussion of the whistleblower complaint has centered on amplifying and condemning Trump’s behavior without much mention of what Joe Biden’s son was doing in Ukraine. There’s a pervasive attitude among those in the media and on the left that if Trump improperly requested an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter, the impropriety of the request somehow makes the potential behavior of Hunter Biden and his father acceptable. This reaction is incoherent and bizarre.
In an ep-ed on Saturday, Government Accountability Institute President Peter Schweizer provided a lengthy walkthrough of Hunter’s activity in Ukraine and his father’s potential role in shielding him from an investigation by the Ukrainian government.
In April 2014, Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma, which had been struggling to adopt a more transparent model of operation after the removal of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. It’s worth noting that Hunter had no experience within the energy sector, but was paid as much as $50,000 per month for his work at Burisma. His presence on the board was seen as a way for the company to legitimize its Western pivot. As the New York Times reported:
Their [Hunter Biden and others’] support allowed Burisma to create the perception that it was backed by powerful Americans at a time when Ukraine was especially dependent on aid and strategic backing from the United States and its allies, according to people who worked in Ukraine at the time.
At the time Hunter joined the board, his father was overseeing the White House’s Ukraine policy, and Burisma was embroiled in controversy. The British government had put a temporary freeze on the London accounts of Burisma’s owner, which was later lifted due to “lack of cooperation from the office of the Ukrainian prosecutor who preceded Mr. Shokin.” Additionally and more importantly, the Ukrainian government was launching its own investigation into potential corruption at the company.
In early 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s controversial prosecutor general who was overseeing the investigation into Burisma. Biden had made firing Shokin part of his anti-corruption crusade, a move even back in 2015 the New York Times had expressed some skepticism over, given Hunter’s role at Burisma.
In a 2018 speech, Joe Biden confirmed his pressure campaign, which involved withholding U.S. loans from the Ukraine if Shokin was not fired: “I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a b—-. He got fired.” Later interviews with half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials reveal the pressure campaign spanned months.
Shokin was fired in March 2016. The investigation into Burisma was dropped six months later. The case was later reopened in 2018 with a new prosecutor. In written answers to Hill contributor John Solomon, former prosecutor Shokin acknowledged he had developed “specific plans” for the Burisma investigation, “include[ing] interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
It would be hard for then-Vice President Biden to not have known about Hunter’s role at Burisma or about Shokin’s role in the investigation when he had the prosecutor fired. Not only was Hunter’s new position reported by the New York Times in 2014, Biden’s office even went on record in 2015 after being questioned about Hunter’s ties, the New York Times reporting that “Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the vice president, said Hunter Biden’s business dealings had no impact on his father’s policy positions in connection with Ukraine.”
It also doesn’t help that, according to an interview in July with The New Yorker, Hunter admitted to discussing his Burisma involvement briefly with his father once, making Joe Biden’s recent vehement denial to ever having it discussed it that much odder.
On Sunday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” expressing that he would support an investigation of Joe Biden if evidence were to reveal that the 2020 Democratic rival had improperly interfered in a Ukrainian investigation in order to shield his son from potential charges. “I do think if Vice President Biden behaved inappropriately, if he was protecting his son and intervened with the Ukrainian leadership in a way that was corrupt, I do think we need to get to the bottom of that,” Pompeo said.
Given the incessant calls for impeaching Trump since his election, it seems many on the left are banking on the hope that the public and media will focus on Trump’s impropriety rather than on the possibility that Biden used his diplomatic position to shield his son from investigation. As Politico points out, ginning up hysteria against Trump may end up backfiring on Biden, who will be forced to relitigate an issue that only hurt his image during the Obama years.
As the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2015, “It should be plain to Hunter Biden that any connection with a Ukrainian oligarch damages his father’s efforts to help Ukraine. This is not a board he should be sitting on.”
Best-case scenario, it’s just bad imaging that Joe Biden had the prosecutor investigating his son’s company fired. Worst case scenario, Biden leveraged his position as vice president in grossly unseemly ways. In either case, to pretend that such relationships aren’t worthy of investigation because Trump suggested they were is a farce. It’s worth getting to the bottom of the whistleblower’s hearsay that prompted Trump’s requests.
If done “correctly,” the left’s hysteria about the phone call will conveniently shield Joe Biden from inevitable criticism regarding his past Ukraine policy, should he win the nomination. But if not, the call may just revive ethical questions regarding Joe Biden’s role in U.S.-Ukraine relations, concerns he likely had long hoped to put to rest.