The Senate’s Hunter Biden report has thrust the former vice president’s wayward son back into the spotlight he managed to mostly avoid since the end of the impeachment ordeal that wrapped up with a Senate acquittal in February.
My book, “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump,” demonstrates how the Trump impeachment might have been ridiculous, but was by no means inconsequential. The biggest consequence might have been a media blackout on Hunter’s financial dealings from scrutiny.
Much of what the 87-page report from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee goes well beyond the conflicts regarding Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter at least $50,000 per month.
The report in fact goes into a tawdry money trail that involves $3.5 million from the wife of the former Moscow mayor and financial transactions with an “Eastern European prostitution or human trafficking ring.”
Such an investigation and revelations didn’t have to wait so long. Much of the mainstream media was actually doggedly pursuing the Hunter Biden story but immediately stopped asking questions after revelations of Trump’s less-than-perfect call.
When Trump talked to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the two leaders referenced Joe and Hunter Biden, military aid and a White House visit. This shifted the Burisma caper from a Biden story to a Trump story.
During that talk, when Trump was certainly correct when he told Zelensky, “there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son.” One had to look no further than The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, The New Yorker, The Hill, and ABC News to learn about Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma, which was paying him at least $50,000 per month.
Considering how much media Trump consumes, it’s nearly unimaginable he wouldn’t bring this up when talking to the Ukrainian president. The same month as Trump’s infamous call with Zelensky, July 2019, the New Yorker ran a feature on Biden’s ties to Burisma and a potential conflict for Joe Biden when he was the Obama administration’s point man in Ukraine matters.
Further, just three days before the Trump-Zelensky call, The Washington Post ran a story that quoted Hunter Biden saying, “At no time have I discussed with my father the company’s business or my board service.” The paper quoted ousted prosecutor Viktor Shokin saying: “The activities of Burisma, the involvement of his son, Hunter Biden, and the [prosecutor general’s office] investigators on his tail, are the only, I emphasize, the only motives for organizing my resignation.”
In May 2019, The New York Times reported Burisma was seeking to bring well-connected Democrats onto the board and that, “Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma prompted concerns among State Department officials at the time that the connection could complicate Vice President Biden’s diplomacy in Ukraine, former officials said.”
Burisma hired Hunter in April 2014 just months after he was discharged from the U.S. Navy Reserves for testing positive for cocaine. Burisma’s board Chairman Alan Apter said: “This is totally based on merit.”
Ahead of then-Vice President Biden’s trip to Kiev in late 2015, the Times reported, “The credibility of the vice president’s anticorruption message may have been undermined by the association of his son, Hunter Biden, with one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, who was Ukraine’s ecology minister under former President Viktor F. Yanukovych before he was forced into exile.”
A few days later, the Times similarly editorialized, “It should be plain to Hunter Biden that any connection with a Ukrainian oligarch damages his father’s efforts to help Ukraine. This is not a board he should be sitting on.”
The Biden-Burisma matter was reported by left-leaning mainstream media outlets well into the summer of 2019. The field of Democratic primary candidates had already attacked Biden for being too old and not progressive enough. His eventual running mate, Kamala Harris, even claimed he was racist. Eventually, they most certainly wouldn’t have shied away from raising ethical issues.
Then came the phone call that became the newest rationale for the Democrats' breathless desire to impeach Trump. Thus, it would be taboo for another Democrat to bring up the same issue that Trump brought up.
When asked about the matter during a debate, Joe said his son did nothing wrong. But New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was indignant the question even came up. “That was so offensive. He should not have to defend himself,” Booker said. “The only person at home enjoying that was Donald Trump.”
Biden’s nearest challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, could have made a strong case about class privilege, but instead when asked simply punted.
So it would also be with media organizations that had aggressively covered Hunter Biden’s peculiar business dealings when his father handled our nation’s Ukraine policy. The story became unmentionable except among conservative media.
Trump arguably could have avoided mentioning it on the call, and let the other Democrats sink Biden with mainstream media coverage of the Hunter Biden matter. For months, Democrats longed for another candidate to step up and be the non-Biden. He lost Iowa and New Hampshire. Had the Ukraine-gate never happened, Burisma-gate would have emerged much stronger and would have been very damaging to Biden.
For most of the year, Republicans rarely mentioned Hunter Biden preferring not to remind voters of impeachment. Democrats rarely talked about impeachment choosing not to remind voters of Hunter Biden. That has changed now.
Fred Lucas is a veteran White House correspondent and the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump” (Bombardier Books, 2020).