Amid the consensus that Wednesday’s congressional testimony by the Beltway version of the Duke brothers (that’s a “Trading Places” reference, millennials) fell flat without any “pizazz,” Democrats undoubtedly are scrambling to create some fireworks next week.
House Intelligence Committee chairman and Hollywood wannabe-screenwriter Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) must be channeling his inner creative genius to fabricate a dramatic role for what Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called “the low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the boarded-up Trump-Russia collusion theater. One can only guess who will grab the spotlight; performances from eight more impeachment accomplices begin Tuesday.
Unfortunately for the tightly scripted Schiff, one name continues to make an unwanted cameo appearance: Hunter Biden.
As former Vice President Joe Biden’s partisan bodyguards in the press bury any criticism of Hunter’s lucrative overseas business deals—the Democratic presidential candidate has declared “war” on negative coverage of his son—Schiff arguably is staging Biden’s biggest political liability for the American people to see, unfiltered.
The Press Can’t Ignore This for Long
Testimony from George Kent, a Ukraine expert in the State Department, must have Team Biden in a tizzy. On several occasions, Kent described Ukraine’s legacy of endemic corruption and the U.S. government’s attempts to curb fraud and political malfeasance in that country. Both Kent and Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, confirmed that Ukraine has received $1.5 billion in U.S. aid over the past several years.
But under questioning from Republican members, Kent provided a number of sound bites that Trump can leverage and the media cannot ignore. Kent reiterated his objection to Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma, a private gas producer owned by an Ukrainian oligarch known for shady, and possibly criminal, business practices.
A stalled investigation into the company should be restarted, Kent admitted when pressed by the Republicans’ legal counsel. “I would agree that the Ukrainian . . . authorities should uphold the rule of law and hold people accountable for breaking Ukrainian law,” Kent said, without mentioning Burisma by name.
Kent told Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) that he first became aware of Burisma’s wrongdoing, including stolen assets, while stationed in Kiev as an anti-corruption officer for the State Department under the Obama Administration. But Kent wasn’t the only government official taking aim at the rogue energy outfit that year.
“[An investigation into Burisma] was launched in May 2014 by the attorney general of the U.S. and U.K. in conjunction with the World Bank,” Kent told Stefanik. More than $20 million of Burisma’s assets were frozen by British authorities.
Appearances of Impropriety
At the exact same time, Burisma started hiring influential Americans to fight the company’s legal battles and burnish its image abroad. According to a 2015 New York Times article, the chairman of Burisma’s board—a former Morgan Stanley investment banker—announced Biden’s appointment. “The company’s strategy is aimed at the strongest concentration of professional staff and the introduction of best corporate practices, and we’re delighted that Mr. Biden is joining us to help us achieve these goals.”
Not only was the junior Biden’s father the vice president of the United States at the time but President Obama had appointed Biden as his direct liaison to the region. During Wednesday’s hearing, neither Kent nor Taylor could confirm whether Hunter Biden spoke Ukrainian, had experience in the global energy sector, or moved to the country to fill his new role.
Burisma also hired Hunter Biden’s business partner, Devon Archer. Their firm, Rosemont Seneca, began receiving monthly payments of $166,000 beginning in May 2014, according to reports by investigative journalist John Solomon.
That same month, Burisma also hired lobbyist David Leiter, the former chief of staff to Senator John Kerry, Obama’s secretary of state at the time. An influential public relations firm and former Clinton administration lawyers rounded out Burisma’s impressive roster of American hired guns. All lobbied Kerry’s State Department on behalf of their Ukrainian-tycoon client.
A few months after the team was put in place, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Obama urging more support for energy exploration in Ukraine. “We should leverage the full resources and expertise of the U.S. government to assist Ukraine in improving its energy efficiency, increasing its domestic production, and reforming its energy markets,” they wrote in June 2014. The action clearly would benefit the country’s largest private gas provider.
But Burisma wasn’t just under scrutiny in the West. The Ukrainian prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, also was probing the company’s crookedness. And this is where Hunter Biden’s hubris becomes his father’s biggest political pitfall.
Biden was caught bragging about threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees in 2016 unless the Ukrainian president fired Shokin. The prosecutor resigned in February 2016; the White House announced the loan guarantee and $335 million in U.S. aid in March 2016.
Biden’s Defense Founders
Team Biden explains away his demand for Shokin’s ouster as an effort to replace one corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor with a more credible official. This is the line the media and Biden continue to parrot.
Biden’s defense, however, took a blow on Wednesday. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) noted there are “dozens and dozens of countries steeped in corruption.” These nations, Stewart added, are home to hundreds of corrupt government officials. Kent and Taylor agreed.
But here was the crusher: “Can you give me an example any time where the vice president of the United States shows up and demands that a specific prosecutor be fired and gives them a six-hour time limit to do that?” Stewart asked Kent and Taylor. “Are you aware of that happening any other place?’
Neither answered. “I guess the answer is no,” Stewart said. They also concurred when Stewart suggested that someone should not be shielded from any sort of investigation because they are a candidate for public office. “No one is above the law, sir,” Kent replied.
Schiff’s impeachment tribunal, aimed at Trump, is misfiring—and it comes at a precarious moment for the Biden campaign. Aside from Biden’s own gaffes and occasional creepiness, Elizabeth Warren is gaining on him in the polls. His fundraising is lagging; even South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised more money in the third quarter of this year than Biden did. Biden seems out of gas and out of step with the party’s radical leadership.
But Biden is widely viewed as the only candidate who can beat Trump next year—so the media is playing along with his frontal assault against any journalist who covers his son’s Burisma grift. Biden’s campaign is promising to taunt and discredit reporters further probing the Burisma matter. Their battle cry, according to a September 2019 Politico article, is “not again,” referring to the Democrats’ belief that the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal fueled her defeat.
“At this point, every Democratic candidate should be unapologetically defending Biden against these allegations,” wrote Washington Monthly‘s Nancy LeTourneau, laying out the overall strategy. “We’re seeing the Trump playbook in action and it’s a repeat of exactly what his campaign did in 2016.”
The Burisma Curse
That might work—for now. But once the race is narrowed down to a few candidates, Biden’s remaining Democratic challengers will be forced to raise the Burisma scandal. (Further, Hunter Biden did not step down from Burisma’s board until earlier this year, only after his dad announced his candidacy.)
Even MSNBC’s Chris Hayes acknowledged Biden’s looming Burisma curse. “Just to be clear: Hunter Biden in no way, shape or form should have accepted that board appointment. I don’t even really think that’s in dispute,” Hayes tweeted during Wednesday’s hearing.
Schiff’s charade is an attempt to influence the 2020 presidential election; the problem for his Democratic colleagues, however, is that he might end up destroying the electoral chances of the wrong candidate.