the national interest

Lindsey Graham Begins Biden Smear Probe Trump Couldn’t Get From Ukraine

Good boy, Lindsey Graham. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutter

Just a few years ago, Lindsey Graham said of Joe Biden, “He’s as good a man as God created.” Now he is launching a probe of Biden, absurdly charging that the former vice-president called for the firing of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor in order to benefit his son. What Graham is revealing through this probe is how guilty Trump is, and how complicit he and fellow Republicans are in his ongoing scheme.

The merits of this allegation are nil. Biden successfully demanded Ukraine fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, whose unwillingness to bring criminal cases against the country’s most powerful oligarchs had stopped the country’s reform efforts. Biden’s intervention is one of his most successful diplomatic efforts, celebrated by reformers both inside Ukraine and elsewhere, which is why he has boasted about it publicly.

The fired Shokin and other Ukrainian oligarchs, many of whom had close ties to Russia (a source of intrigue and deep corruption in the country) worked with Rudy Giuliani to circulate an alternative story. According to their narrative, Shokin was on the verge of prosecuting Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm that employed Biden’s son, when Biden forced him out. Graham’s letter announcing his probe claims that he needs to get to the bottom of these “allegations that Vice President Biden played a role in the termination of Prosecutor General Shokin in an effort to end the investigation of the company employing his son.”

Last May, Giuliani got the New York Times to publish a bizarre news story simultaneously raising his allegations (without backing up any of the insinuations) while noting, as a side point, the impropriety of Trump’s lawyer using foreign influence to smear his domestic enemies. In fact, one of the key dates in the timeline of the Times account was wrong. Numerous reporters have found that the investigation into Burisma was dormant when Biden pushed to fire Shokin — indeed, because Shokin was so reluctant to prosecute oligarchs, replacing him could only increase the risk to Burisma. The Washington Post, L.A. Times, and Bloomberg News all thoroughly reported the case and found that Burisma was not facing investigation when Shokin was fired.

Indeed, the charge that Biden called for Shokin’s firing “in an effort to end the investigation of the company employing his son” is laughable on its face because the entire Western world was calling for Shokin’s firing. The U.S. foreign-policy Establishment, Western allies, nongovernmental organizations, and Ukrainian democrats all wanted Shokin gone, and none of those organizations had sons on the board of Burisma. Several Republicans at the time signed a letter also calling for Shokin to be fired. It would have been genuinely suspicious if Biden did not want to fire Shokin.

That Graham, from his position nestled at Trump’s feet, would launch this investigation also happens to blow up one of the favorite defenses his supporters have devised. They have tried to claim that Trump was not ordering up investigations designed to smear his enemies, but was somehow — contrary to the thrust of his entire business career and general political orientation — concerned with corruption in Ukraine. Just corruption in general.

Jim Jordan spent the impeachment hearings doggedly repeating a story, apparently concocted by Jordan, according to which Trump was skeptical of giving foreign aid to a corrupt state like Ukraine. He wanted to see if the country’s new president was the real deal. So he temporarily held up aid to ensure Ukraine was serious about taking on the oligarchs.

One tent of this absurd fantasy involves pretending that when Trump invokes “corruption,” he is not merely using an insult for his political opponents. Diplomats who worked for Trump have piously insisted that they had no idea until the end that Trump and Giuliani’s obsession with investigating Burisma had something to do with Joe Biden. Maybe the president just had some idiosyncratic fixation with a random Ukrainian energy firm. Pretending investigations of Burisma followed some sincere concern with cleaning up the Ukrainian energy sector, though, is a key tenet of Trump’s defense.

Yet here is Graham spelling out the subtext. Their concern with Burisma is Biden. The point is alleging that Trump’s leading rival somehow acted improperly. Rather than denying the purpose was to smear a Trump enemy, Graham is helping to confirm it.

Trump’s election in 2016 relied on an ongoing investigation into his opponent, which conservative media hyped relentlessly, goading the mainstream media to cover the allegations. All he needs is a pretext to generate the cable-news chyrons that will make confused voters believe there must be some smoke to the fire when his crowds chant to lock up his next opponent. That was the purpose of his Ukraine extortion scheme. And that is the purpose Graham is carrying out for him now, right before our eyes.

Graham Begins Biden Probe Trump Couldn’t Get From Ukraine