The latest fixation in Trumpworld is former Vice President Joe Biden and his work in Ukraine while his son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian gas-extraction company.
The matter was catapulted into the spotlight last week after reports that an intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump. At the center of the complaint was a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump discussed the Bidens.
Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani allege that Joe Biden meddled in a criminal investigation into Burisma Holdings — whose board Hunter Biden sat on from April 2014 through early 2019 — led by Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. When he visited the country in March 2016, Joe Biden pressed hard for Shokin to be fired for corruption.
Biden represented the US’s official position on the matter, one that was shared by many other Western governments and anticorruption activists in Ukraine, according to The Associated Press. However, Trump and Giuliani allege that Biden pushed for Shokin’s ouster because he wanted to stymie the investigation into Burisma.
But there’s a huge loophole in those claims. Government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates say Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Biden even stepped into the picture, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In other words, Biden was doing the opposite of what Trump and Giuliani are implying: He was trying to oust a prosecutor who was slow-walking the investigation into Burisma, rather than actively targeting the company.
Western diplomats also say he essentially shut down one such investigation into Burisma’s founder in the UK by refusing to cooperate with authorities. And Bloomberg reported that the Burisma investigation was largely dormant when Biden called for Shokin to be fired.
Still, Trump and Giuliani have pushed hard, both publicly and privately, for Ukraine to investigate Biden.
“You don’t get to approve a prosecutor in a foreign country unless something fishy is going on,” Giuliani said on Fox News on Sunday.
Trump’s discussion of the matter with Zelensky — in which he called for another country to investigate his political opponent ahead of a presidential election — was so unprecedented that it prompted the whistleblower complaint. The Journal reported that Trump pressed Zelensky to work with Giuliani on the investigation at least eight times during their conversation.
The president said over the weekend that his conversation with Zelensky was “largely congratulatory” and “largely the fact that we don’t want our people like VP Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in Ukraine.”
The whistleblower’s complaint also referred to a “promise” Trump apparently made to Zelensky, but it’s unclear what that was.
Some have speculated in recent days that the Trump administration may have withheld a military aid package from Ukraine worth hundreds of millions of dollars to spur Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden. But The Journal cited a person familiar with the matter as saying they didn’t think Trump offered any quid pro quo during the call.
However, the president gave some indication on Monday that he may have had the package on his mind while talking to Zelensky.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt? It’s very important that on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption.”
Earlier this year, Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time, said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
“I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of US presidential elections,” Lutsenko said. “Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws … at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.”