Trump, Giuliani Press for Dirt on Biden Despite Ukraine Rebuff

Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, keep repeating allegations that former Vice President Joe Biden did something dirty in Ukraine -- without any proof. Officials in that country haven’t helped clear up the confusion with sometimes conflicting statements over what they might be looking into.

Prosecutors in Ukraine, however, aren’t investigating Biden and have no evidence of wrongdoing.

No matter. Trump and Giuliani have been intent on pressing for an inquiry. They’ve talked about it publicly. And Trump talked about it with the Ukrainian president in a July phone call that’s now the subject of intense scrutiny. Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, according to people with knowledge of the call.

Giuliani has at times, though not consistently, admitted pressing the Ukrainians to investigate Biden, the leading Democratic rival to Trump for the 2020 presidential election, and his son.

The matter is bubbling up again because of a whistle-blower in the U.S. intelligence community. The contents of the whistle-blower‘s complaint remain secret, but reports have surfaced linking it to Trump’s communications with a foreign leader. And Democratic lawmakers, who were already asking whether Trump’s team had improperly leaned on Ukraine for political gain, are now tussling with the administration to find out just what raised an alarm.

Giuliani has claimed for months that as vice president Biden acted to help his son. It’s not disputed that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor in 2016 and threatened to withhold aid as part of a U.S.-European anti-corruption effort.

Giuliani contends -- without offering evidence -- that Biden’s motivation was to stop an investigation into the owner of a natural gas company, Burisma, where Hunter Biden sat on the board. On Thursday night, Giuliani told CNN that his goal was to get the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption “and I’m proud of it.”

Biden said Friday in Iowa that “not one single” media outlet has given Trump’s allegations of impropriety any crediblity. “So I have no comment other than that the president should start to be the president,” Biden said.

Ukraine is in a delicate position. It has a new president with no prior political experience. It’s highly dependent on the U.S. for political support and military aid. Kyiv also wants U.S. support in the run-up to peace talks later this month over the eastern area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, who took over parts of the country in 2014. It can hardly afford to offend leaders in the U.S.

The new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will meet with Trump at the United Nations next week, a senior U.S. administration official said on Friday.

Shelved Investigation

Bloomberg News reported in May that prosecutors in Ukraine had already shelved the investigation into Burisma’s owner by 2015. That suggests Biden and his son didn’t stand to benefit from the prosecutor’s ouster. In addition, Vitaliy Kasko, a former deputy prosecutor who had once pursued the case against Burisma’s owner, told Bloomberg in May that there had been no U.S. pressure to close the case.

Biden was indeed active in Ukraine. His threat to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees was contingent on the removal of prosecutor-general Viktor Shokin, who was widely viewed as failing to tackle rampant corruption. Many world leaders and the European Union were demanding Shokin’s dismissal. Shokin denied accusations of wrongdoing.

Yet Giuliani has continued to press Ukraine to probe Biden. He planned to visit Ukraine in May to meet with Zelenskiy and discuss reopening the case against Burisma. He canceled the trip at the last minute after public criticism that he was meddling in foreign affairs for possible political gain.

Giuliani did, however, meet with a key Zelenskiy aide, Andriy Yermak, in Madrid in August, to press for an investigation into possible Biden conflicts, according to the New York Times.

That didn’t ensure smooth relations. In August, the U.S. temporarily blocked $250 million in promised military aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy announced last week that the U.S. had finally released the funds, and added $140 million, without specifying why it had received more or how it would be used. The Ukrainian president didn’t say whether the U.S. had made any demands and had only words of praise for Trump.

“We had several talks,” Zelenskiy said at a conference in Kyiv. “We have very good relations with our strategic partner, the U.S. And I am thankful to them for their support.”

Investigating Pressure

Three congressional committees announced on Sept. 9 that they had underway a joint investigation into whether Trump and Giuliani improperly exerted pressure on the Ukrainian government. In letters to the White House and State Department, they added that they were focusing, among other things, on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, speaking to reporters on Friday, said the committees’ investigation predated the whistle-blower complaint. A statement by Schiff on Sept. 13 about his efforts to get access to the whistle-blower complaint noted that his committee was first informed it existed on Sept. 9.

Giuliani has extensive ties to Ukraine stretching back more than a decade.

In 2008, he advised Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion, on his campaign for mayor, a post he’s held since 2014. In 2017, Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Pinchuk paid Giuliani to give a speech at a conference in Kyiv; on the same trip he met then-President Petro Poroshenko, along with the country’s prime minister, foreign minister and prosecutor general.

Later that year Giuliani traveled to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv to advise the mayor on security issues in a contract paid for by a local businessman, Pavel Fuks, who once tried to do a deal with Trump for Moscow Tower.

In May, Ukraine’s then prosecutor-general Yuriy Lutsenko told Bloomberg News in an interview that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden and his son.

Since then, Zelenskiy appointed a new prosecutor general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, who had been a top official at the National Agency for Preventing Corruption.

--With assistance from Billy House and Tyler Pager.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephanie Baker in London at stebaker@bloomberg.net;Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at dkrasnolutsk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Katz at akatz5@bloomberg.net, Winnie O'Kelley, Larry Liebert

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