Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 2, 2019
However effective the announced House campaign towards impeachment of Donald Trump will prove to be over the next weeks, Team Trump’s defense already has succeeded in smearing Democrat Joe Biden with a broad, unproved corruption brush.
Indeed, within minutes of the stunning declaration by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that her majority would be backing a formal impeachment pathway, Republicans were taking to TV talking points that started and ended with a strange “fairness” argument that Biden, too, should be examined for corruption charges.
After all, that set of broad allegations was at the heart of Trump’s pressuring of Ukrainian President VolodymyrZelensky to re-open an investigation of Biden wrongdoings in return for receiving nearly $400 million in military aid.
As it happens, various agencies and journalists have looked into the details of the Biden allegations over the last five years, all coming up empty-handed. Nevertheless, Trump’s obsessiveness with finding a problem actually is generating an issue that like Hillary Clinton and Benghazi will not go away easily. It is too easy for one partisan to say why only look at me, what about the other guy?
But it makes no sense to judge whether Donald Trump has abused his office and oath by pointing elsewhere and saying Biden did too — even if he didn’t.
In any event, following the logic of Rudy Giuliani, presidential adviser, lawyer, TV front and fact-twister, it seems time to renew what is known about the Bidens. As it happens, the news about Trump’s pressure for dirt is coming up just as Joe Biden happens to be sliding a bit in election polls as the Democratic front runner, and may do actual damage to his presidential campaign — whether the information is true or not.
I saw a bit of Sean Hannity last night, going on for nearly an hour about the Bidens. Unexplained was how any of this would clear the idea that Trump leaned on a foreign leader for his own partisan political ends.
Indeed, I’m certain that new polling would reflect a sense that there is a pox on all political houses, if the question were put that way.
Giuliani, Trump and friends are selling less a specific falsehood than an all-encompassing false narrative that feels ready-made for political organizations, believers, even news organizations to pick up whole. Each mention in the press about the Biden incidents say outright that there is no proof of a problem, but there is a mention anyway, since it is inextricably linked to the explanation of the Trump impeachment inquiry. What is clear is that anti-Biden is a campaign of the White House, with official government backing from Justice, State, Treasury and other administration departments, as well as Congressional Republicans.
Giuliani’s story is that Biden abused his vice presidential office to get the Ukraine to quash an investigation into his son, Hunter, ironically by withholding aid to a former Ukrainian administration. In fact, there was no investigation to quash. Biden was arguably the most influential among a flood of western voices calling for the resignation of the lead Ukraine prosecutor’s resignation as part of the West’s bid to help the former Soviet republic root out corruption.
Hunter Biden, who has had a checkered career history that has included drug problems, joined the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma in 2014. Around the same time, Western companies were pressuring the former Ukraine government to dismiss then-chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen as refusing to investigate any cases of high-level corruption. Calls for Shokin’s removal dominated news coverage of Ukraine for months in 2016, as the IMF and EU threatened to withhold financial support from the country if he stayed in the job.
Biden, at one point, threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee until Shokin was removed. Giuliani has spun that threat into a personal vendetta of Biden’s to protect his son, a strange mirror of the current charges against Trump. The crux of Giuliani’s allegation against Biden is that Biden leaned on Shokin in a bid to prevent him from conducting an investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement in Burisma.
But Giuliani’s allegation completely misstates the environment around Shokin, and winds up wittingly or unwittingly playing as PR for the former prosecutor — who was never investigating Burisma Holdings.
Burisma was at the center of a corruption scandal,after owner Mykola Zlochevsky fled Ukraine following the country’s February, 2014 revolution. Zlochevsky, who before the revolution was minister of natural resources, had awarded Burisma lgas drilling licenses, leading to allegations that he was embezzling state resources on a massive scale. Within a year, the case fell apart, largely because Shokin’s office refused to reply to British legal requests demanding evidence supporting corruption allegations.
The brazenness of the self-dealing in this case — awarding gas permits to yourself — and the involvement of the U.K. made the case a high-profile failure of Shokin’s tenure, and contributed to calls for his removal.
As far as we can tell, the Burisma investigation was dead when Biden supposedly killed it.Shokin had shelved the Burisma investigation in 2015, one year before Biden is accused of stepping in to quash it. Former members of Shokin’s office from that time have confirmed that the Burisma case was halted more than a year before Biden called for Shokin’s resignation.
Let’s also assert that Biden should have recognized that the business connections of his family while he was vice president could have an appearance of a problem. So, too, should Trump acknowledge the same about his family and its international business alliances.
The Washington Postreached former topUkrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko, whose allegations were at the heart of the dirt-digging effort by Giuliani. He said he believed that Hunter Biden did not run afoul of any laws in Ukraine. “From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything. . . Hunter Biden cannot be responsible for violations of the management of Burisma that took place two years before his arrival,” Lutsenko said.
Giuliani — in part through the New York Times — has alleged that Biden fired Shokin in a bid to halt a criminal investigation that threatened his son.
“In the course of investigating that, I found out this incredible story about Joe Biden, that he bribed the president of the Ukraine in order to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son,” Giuliani told CNN. That is an astounding scandal of major proportions which all of you have covered up for about five or six months.”
Giuliani has not offered any evidence to support the allegations.
The Washington Postdebunked a parallel Trump claim that Hunter Biden “made millions of dollars from China” or “walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund” after hitching a ride with his father on Air Force Two. There is no evidence to support those statements, reported the Post, about the December, 2013 trip to China with his dad. Twelve days after he flew to Beijing, Hunter Biden joined an advisory board of a fund called BHR Partners, which had announced it would try to raise $1.5 billion for investment; a Chinese private-equity fund was one of the partners who formed BHR. While Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden was only on the board of the advisory firm that did not directly invest, but instead advised those who did, before taking an equity stake, for which he raised $400,000 as his share of a ten-fold financial stake. Partners said to date, Hunter Biden has not received any return or compensation on account of this investment or his position on the board of directors, say those who have looked into it.
Perhaps we can allow a little bit of light to bear on this bogus, muddying effort.