U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer is raising the specter that Joe Biden intervened in Ukrainian politics to help his son’s business.
But if that was Biden’s aim, he was more than a year late, based on a timeline laid out by a former Ukrainian official and in Ukrainian documents, Bloomberg reports.
The official described to Bloomberg details about the country’s political dynamic in the run-up to early 2016 when Biden, then the U.S. vice president, threatened to hold up U.S. funding to Ukraine unless it cracked down on corruption. Biden’s chief demand was the ouster of a top Ukrainian prosecutor who he said had been ineffective. The episode has come under the spotlight in the last week because at one point, that prosecutor had been investigating a natural gas company where Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board and received substantial compensation.
There’s little question that the Bidens’ paths in Ukraine held the potential for conflict, and in a tweet last week, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the U.S. should investigate the matter. But what has received less attention is that at the time Biden made his ultimatum, the probe into the company -- Burisma Holdings, owned by Mykola Zlochevsky -- had been long dormant, according to the former official, Vitaliy Kasko.
"There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky," Kasko said in an interview last week. "It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015."
Kasko’s assessment adds a wrinkle to one of the first political intrigues of the 2020 election season. It undercuts the idea that Biden, now a top Democratic presidential candidate, was seeking to sideline a prosecutor who was actively threatening a company tied to his son. Instead, it appears more consistent with Biden’s previous statements that he was pressing for the removal of a prosecutor who was failing to tackle rampant corruption: According to public reports and internal documents from the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, U.S. officials had expressed concern for more than a year about Ukrainian prosecutors’ failure to assist an international investigation of Zlochevsky.
Earlier this year, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, met with Trump attorney Giuliani, and the two discussed the Burisma investigation, according to Lutsenko’s spokeswoman Larysa Sargan. Sargan said the prosecutor general hasn’t reopened the case into Burisma or Zlochevsky, contradicting a claim in the New York Times that the Ukrainian prosecutor is scrutinizing millions of dollars of payments from Burisma to the firm that paid Hunter Biden.
Ukraine’s incoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is likely to appoint his own top prosecutor to replace Lutsenko. Under Poroshenko, Ukraine hasn’t convicted any high-ranking officials of corruption.
Giuliani has been pressing for greater scrutiny of the Biden matter. “Biden conflicts are too apparent to be ignored and should be investigated quickly and expeditiously,” Giuliani tweeted, sharing a link to the Times’s story.
As vice president, Joe Biden played a key role in the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had opened an investigation of a company employing Mr. Biden’s son.
President Donald Trump has also referenced potential conflicts of interest by Joe Biden, one of the Democrats currently seen as having the greatest chance to defeat him.