Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine is a problem, but not just for Democrats

President Trump’s explanation for asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — the basis of an impeachment investigation in the House of Representatives — is that Biden, as vice president, tried to quash an investigation into a Ukrainian company on whose board of directors his son Hunter served.

In 2016, Biden, as a representative of the Obama administration, did demand the firing of Ukraine’s State Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who had earlier investigated the company, Burisma Holdings, a huge natural gas producer. But the investigation had been dropped by that time, and the European Union and many American allies backed the dismissal of Shokin, who was widely viewed as corrupt.

So although the allegation about Joe Biden has been widely discredited, Republican allies of the president who as a candidate vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington influence peddling have a fallback issue to pursue: Why was Hunter Biden, who had no evident experience in either Ukraine or the energy business, appointed to the board of directors (for a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month) of a natural gas company in Kiev?

Hunter Biden (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images, AP)

The Trump talking point, which appears to have originated with his lawyer and adviser Rudy Giuliani — that Biden intervened in this case to protect his son’s business interests — has become gospel for many Republicans, as was illustrated in a Sunday exchange between CNN’s Jake Tapper and one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Jordan: “When they see the vice president’s son getting paid $50,000 a month in a field, in an industry he has no experience in ... and then when the company that’s paying that money is under investigation, guess what? Daddy comes running to the rescue. The vice president of the United States comes running in and says, ‘Fire that prosecutor.’”

Tapper: “That's not what happened. Sir, sir, that’s not what happened. The European Union, the Obama administration, the International Monetary Fund, pro-clean-government activists in Ukraine, [all] thought that the prosecutor was not prosecuting corruption.”

Jordan: “So you’re saying Joe Biden didn’t tell Ukraine to fire that prosecutor? I think he did.”

Tapper: “He did, but the guy was not prosecuting anything. That was the problem.”

Jordan: “Here are the facts —”

Tapper: “You’re not saying facts. You say, ‘Here are the facts,’ these are not.”

Jordan: “Did Joe Biden tell him to fire the prosecutor?”

Tapper: “Because he wasn’t going after corruption. He wasn’t going after corruption. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

While a version of that real-time fact checking played out on other Sunday morning shows this weekend regarding Shokin’s firing, an unavoidable — if tangential — question still remains: Was Hunter Biden in effect trading on his father’s name in winning the lucrative directorship?

“I have had no role whatsoever in relation to any investigation of Burisma, or any of its officers,” Hunter Biden said in a statement to the New York Times in May when asked about Shokin. “I explicitly limited my role to focus on corporate governance best practices to facilitate Burisma’s desire to expand globally.”

While the younger Biden is a lawyer who had served on the board of directors at Amtrak as well as a number of nonprofit organizations, worked at the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration and was a Washington lobbyist for various universities and U.S. companies, he had no real experience in Ukraine before he joined Burisma Holdings.

Trump has made even more outlandish claims about another of Hunter Biden’s business ventures, a 2013 deal with a Chinese private equity fund, BHR Partners. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff “doesn’t talk about Joe Biden and his son walking away with millions of dollars from Ukraine and then millions of dollars from China. Walking away, in a quick meeting, walking away with millions of dollars,” Trump said in a press conference last week. There is no evidence that Joe Biden made any money at all from the deal, and Trump has thrown around the figure of $1.5 billion, the amount BHR supposedly raised for investments abroad, in a way that implied Hunter Biden personally profited by that amount.

But that is equally true for Trump’s children. Ivanka Trump, for instance, has been awarded 34 trademarks from the Chinese government since her father took office. Some of the trademarks, which include wedding dresses, art valuation services, child care centers, sunglasses and more, extend through 2028, meaning the president’s daughter could well cash in on them once Trump departs the White House.

Moreover, Trump’s insistence that Biden pressured Ukrainian officials so as to aid his son glosses over the fact that Trump, by his own admission, pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden, and that pressure can certainly be seen as aiding his own reelection bid. Now it could lead to his impeachment.

“They did it too” is not exactly a robust defense, whether by the president, his Republican defenders or Democrats. As former Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein noted on CNN, examining the perks received by the children of powerful politicians may be a sideshow, but it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Hunter Biden is a legitimate story to be looked at in terms of his role in this Ukrainian gas company. There is nothing that I’m seeing that substantiates Mr. Giuliani’s or the president’s allegations about crooked prosecutors dropping charges because it was Biden,” Bernstein said, adding, “But if anybody has a history of terrible conflict of interest by his children, it is this president of the United States. And we ought to be looking at all of these questions about the children and presidents and vice presidents of the United States in conflicts of interest.”

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