It’s not often that President Trump is found propping up the work of the New York Times. He did so last week though, when the paper published a lengthy report on Joe Biden, Ukraine, and the efforts by Trump allies to manufacture a scandal that ensnares the former vice-president and 2020 presidential candidate.
Like another controversy involving shady dealings in Ukraine, the details of this story can be hard to follow. But it seems pretty clear that it’s going to come up again and again, as long as Biden is a front-runner in the 2020 presidential campaign. Here’s what we know so far.
When he was vice-president, Biden put pressure on Kiev to dump the country’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. In March of 2016, Ukraine’s Parliament voted to fire Shokin, who was widely thought of as corrupt.
At the same time, Biden’s son Hunter, a lawyer and lobbyist who was kicked out of the Navy in 2014 after he tested positive for cocaine, was on the board of Burisma Holdings. The Ukrainian energy firm was owned by an oligarch who was in Shokin’s crosshairs, meaning the prosecutor’s firing was good news for Hunter Biden.
The news got even better when Yuriy Lutsenko came on as Ukraine’s new prosecutor general. In 2017, he cleared Burisma, and the firm’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, returned to Ukraine after fleeing the country to avoid the investigation.
Allies of President Trump, led by lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have been promoting the story in an attempt to cast Biden as corrupt. Last week, Giuliani called for Biden to be “investigated quickly and expeditiously.”
But there’s a problem with the suggestion that Biden was trying to help his son. The investigation into Burisma was dead long before Biden started his campaign to oust Shokin, Vitaliy Kasko, a former Ukrainian official who worked under Shokin, told Bloomberg.
“There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,” Kasko said in an interview last week. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
Kasko’s assessment adds a wrinkle to one of the first political intrigues of the 2020 election season. It undercuts the idea that Biden, now a top Democratic presidential candidate, was seeking to sideline a prosecutor who was actively threatening a company tied to his son. Instead, it appears more consistent with Biden’s previous statements that he was pressing for the removal of a prosecutor who was failing to tackle rampant corruption.
Why this is surfacing now
Credit goes to Giuliani and Trump-supporting right-wing blogs that have covered the story with a Benghazi-like zeal.
The Times reports that Giuliani has gone as far as meeting with Lutsenko to make the case for pursuing Biden’s connections to Burisma. In March, Lutsenko reopened the case against the oil company, two years after clearing Burisma.
Mr. Giuliani has discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersection with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor. He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year. The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.
The Times suggests that Lutsenko’s decision to reopen the case could have been an attempt “to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko.” Poroshenko lost his bid for reelection last month.
The Bidens’ response
Joe Biden claims that he didn’t even know that Hunter was on the Burisma board, which he reportedly joined in April 2014, until he read about it in news reports.
Hunter, who left the firm’s board in April, said in a statement to the Times that he never talked to his dad about the job. “At no time have I discussed with my father the company’s business, or my board service, including my initial decision to join the board,” he said.
A spokesperson for Biden’s campaign emphasized that the effort to remove Ukraine’s former prosecutor general was multilateral and had nothing to do with the “business interests of his son, a private citizen.”
All of this is backed up by people who were with Biden at the time he was pushing to remove Shokin. “I was in almost every single meeting that Vice President Biden had with President Poroshenko, I was on every trip, and I was on most of the phone calls, and there was never a discussion about his son, or Burisma,” former State Department staffer Amos J. Hochstein told the Times. “None of these issues ever came up.”