Report and Trump-Ukraine-Biden, Part Three
In the wake of the release of two key documents related to US President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Trump Administration is enduring a new level of scrutiny. A majority of members of the US House of Representatives now publicly support the launched by probe Nancy Pelosi on September 24, 2019.
Those who favor the impeachment of Trump see his July 25 phone call with Zelensky as clear proof of serious abuse of presidential power. Meanwhile, Trump allies are focusing their attacks on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was heavily involved in US-Ukraine political negotiations from 2014 through 2016.
Trump’s Accusations About Biden & Ukraine – What We Know
Ever since President Viktor Yanukovych was forced out of power in Ukraine amidst massive national protests in 2014, the country has been under intense pressure from the US, the EU, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to crackdown on corruption. As The Washington Post, Bloomberg Politics and numerous other sources have reported, one of the targets of Ukrainian corruption investigations has been oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.
Zlochevsky founded the gas company Burisma in 2002 and later served as Ukraine’s Environment Minister. While Zlochevsky was under investigation in 2014, Burisma brought several representatives from other countries, including Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, onto the company board. The company presented this internationalization of corporate leadership to the public as a move toward greater transparency.
Late in 2014, the Obama Administration criticized Ukrainian officials for failing to follow through adequately on corruption investigations. In the hands of deputy prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who rose to the position of Prosecutor General of Ukraine in February 2015, the Zlochevsky investigation and others seemed to stall.
Biden’s Increased Role in Ukraine, 2014-2017
Over time, Biden, who was then Obama’s vice president, became heavily involved in the negotiations with Ukraine. It is important to remember that at this point, the US was urging Ukraine to ramp up the investigation of Zlochevsky (presumably including Burisma), not to curtail it. In any event, Biden led the charge to get Shokin fired, a campaign that was ultimately successful. Shokin was removed from office in early 2016.
According to the July 25 phone call rough transcript, Trump told Zelensky that Biden has bragged about shutting down the Zlochevsky-Burisma prosecution. Biden has indeed publicly boasted about his involvement in the firing of Shokin, but for the more general reason that the removal of Shokin advanced the cause of fighting corruption in Ukraine.
In fact, evidence suggests that insisting on Shokin’s removal was not Biden’s idea initially, but rather, a proposal from US diplomats in Kyiv. The IMF had also expressed strong disapproval of Shokin’s failure to pursue corruption cases, as had multiple European leaders.
Trump’s claims that Biden’s activities in Ukraine were corrupt appear to center on two main issues. First, in an interview in May 2019, Shokin insisted that he had been aggressively investigating Burisma, and his firing came in retaliation for that investigation.
Shokin’s claim about his role in investigating Burisma is shaky, however. Evidence indicates that under his leadership, the Zlochevsky investigation had actually been idle for as long as a year before Biden became involved in the movement for Shokin’s dismissal.
Second, Burisma officially announced in January 2017 that investigations into Zlochevsky had come to a close, and that the company had agreed to pay any back taxes owed as a result of past corrupt practices. This announcement came as Obama and Biden were preparing to leave office, and the Trump Administration was preparing to take over.
No one has yet presented compelling evidence that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were motivated by a desire to protect his son. Furthermore, multiple Ukrainian officials have stated that Hunter Biden was not the subject of the investigation into Burisma, and has not been accused of breaking any laws.
Nevertheless, the timing of the 2017 Burisma announcement and Trump’s ongoing accusations might cause problems for Biden’s presidential campaign, now that US-Ukraine relations are being scrutinized as never before.