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More Smoke: New Details, Suspicious Timeline Emerge on Biden-Ukraine Conflict of Interest Story

AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu

I've panned Joe Biden's response to the Ukraine story for weeks, skewering him for his blanket assertions that no wrongdoing took place and his seemingly false claim that he never discussed foreign business dealings with his son, Hunter. If there was no conflict of interest problem, why has Hunter stepped down from his perch on a Chinese company's board (after all, his dad keeps saying China isn't much of a threat to the US), and why has be publicly pledged not to engage in overseas business if his father is elected president? Lashing out at reporters asking fair and pertinent questions is also a bad look.

Nevertheless, the line has always been -- with a great deal of corroboration -- that then-Vice President Biden's efforts to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired did not amount to any form of malfeasance because said prosecutor was widely understood to be corrupt. It wasn't just Joe Biden, on behalf of the Obama administration, saying so. The EU, the IMF, and numerous other international bodies were also convinced that the official in question was hopelessly compromised and needed to go. Plus, we've been told, Biden wanted the prosecutor ousted not because he was going after Burisma (the Ukrainian gas company to whose board Hunter Biden was hired, for no obviously legitimate reason, given his lack of experience and qualifications), but because he wasn't pursuing investigations in a sufficient rigor. In short, the 'conflict of interest' allegation was totally without merit. But wait:

During that February 2016 contact, a U.S. representative for Burisma Holdings sought a meeting with Undersecretary of State Catherine A. Novelli to discuss ending the corruption allegations against the Ukrainian firm where Hunter Biden worked as a board member, according to memos obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. (I filed that suit this summer with the help of the public interest law firm the Southeastern Legal Foundation.) Just three weeks before Burisma’s overture to State, Ukrainian authorities raided the home of the oligarch who owned the gas firm and employed Hunter Biden, a signal the long-running corruption probe was escalating in the middle of the U.S. presidential election. Hunter Biden’s name, in fact, was specifically invoked by the Burisma representative as a reason the State Department should help, according to a series of email exchanges among U.S. officials trying to arrange the meeting. The subject line for the email exchanges read simply “Burisma.”

Read the email for yourself:

That missive -- which explicitly invokes Hunter's name -- was sent roughly one month prior to Vice President Biden threatening to withhold US aid from Ukraine if the prosecutor overseeing the case wasn't fired. The firing happened. Biden bragged about it publicly:

"I said I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said you’re not getting the billion, and I’m going to be leaving here, and I think it was what, six hours. I looked. I said I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired."

Again, there were evidently sound anti-corruption reasons to want the prosecutor fired. But at least part of the narrative we've been given isn't quite adding up. More details and context, via Ed Morrissey:

Biden claims he did that because Shokin had not aggressively prosecuted corruption, including that at Burisma, where his son Hunter sat on the board. However, the new e-mails show that Hunter’s name was being tossed around the State Department a month earlier as the firm pleaded that Shokin was being too tough...Whether and when this meeting took place has not been established, but clearly State was informed that Hunter’s name was in play and Burisma was unhappy with Shokin. This was no low-level contact either...That discussion took place on February 24th, 2016. Exactly one week later, Hunter’s business partner and fellow Burisma board member Devon Archer dropped by to see Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department’s C Street offices. Archer had been a college roommate of Kerry’s stepson Christopher Heinz, so this could have just been a coincidence — but it’s one that has never yet been explained or explored. Less than a month later, Joe Biden went to Ukraine to demand Shokin’s firing.

"Biden insists that he used this quid pro quo on behalf of the US and our allies, not to benefit his son, and that the intent was to intensify a crackdown on corruption. These e-mails show that at least part of this story looks false. Burisma was unhappy enough with Shokin’s focus on them to push the State Department to back him off and tossed Hunter’s name around to do it. The other American on the Burisma board met with his friend’s father, the US Secretary of State immediately afterward, at which point Biden demanded a quid pro quo to fire Shokin," Morrissey writes. None of this vindicates President Trump's actions, which I've repeatedly referred to as a misuse and abuse of presidential foreign policymaking powers (the latest developments in that saga only entrench my view on that matter, about which I'll have more to say soon).  

But these documents, and the related timeline, very much call into question key elements of Biden's 'conflict of interest' pushback. The Kerry visit from the other American on Burisma's board is also suspicious. We don't have a smoking gun here. We do, however, have plenty of material for additional questions, fueled by a curious sequence of events and new information that at least partially contradicts previous explanations. Biden and company have repeatedly claimed that there's nothing to see here. This at least appears to be something to see. Reporters should dig into this further, even if it sparks the candidate's wrath, and even if they fear holding Biden's feet to the fire could help the Trump campaign. The Wall Street Journal is on it:


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