The Biden Factor
At the root of Trump’s infamous phone conversation with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Trump’s attempt to coerce damaging information on Biden. What is that all about?
During the Obama administration, Joe Biden was a lead U.S. diplomat in Ukraine after a popular revolution in 2014 led to pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country to Russia. Shortly after Joe began this work, his son Hunter, took a job as a board member for Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Numerous reports cite Hunter’s compensation at as much as 50K per month. In the infamous phone call, Trump encouraged Ukraine’s president Zelensky to reopen a closed Ukrainian government investigation into corruption at Burisma.
Trump’s call came as Kyiv was awaiting approval of almost $400 million in Pentagon and State Department military assistance for Ukraine. Ukraine is currently fighting Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of two eastern provinces in a still-simmering war that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014. Citing three unnamed senior U.S. administration officials, The Washington Post reported on September 23 that Trump had told his acting chief of staff at least a week before the call to hold the assistance package because he had “concerns” about how the money would be used.
Viktor Shokin was Ukraine’s previous prosecutor general. Viktor Shokin became top prosecutor after Yanukovych went into exile. In Dec. 2015, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Shokin was fired, and Shokin was fired at that time. Trump and his associates claim that Shokin was in the process of investigating Burisma when Shokin was fired. The inference is that Biden did this to protect his son’s actions at Burisma from scrutiny. However, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the U.S. government, foreign investors, and Ukrainian advocates of reform all wanted to see Shokin fired.
The owner of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, had also been under the scrutiny of prosecutors. A minister of natural resources until 2012, Mr. Zlochevsky was accused of improperly granting gas extraction licenses to firms affiliated with him, and at times was investigated for alleged abuse of power, illegal enrichment and money laundering. Mr. Zlochevsky was never convicted of any crimes and denied any wrongdoing.
Joe wanted Shokin to leave because he was NOT investigating Burisma. Ukrainian prosecutors have described no evidence indicating that Biden sought to help his son by getting Shokin dismissed.
Trump was strong arming the Ukrainian president, dangling US military aid in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden. Trump wanted the lack of investigation into Burisma and the firing of Shokin to appear as an attempt by Joe Biden to protect his son Hunter’s reputation, and possibly even for Ukrainian officials to create fiction about the Bidens.
This is exactly why nepotism is unwise. Just the appearance of impropriety can be used to suggest illicit activity.