GOP report calls Hunter Biden’s Burisma position ‘problematic,’ but offers few examples it affected US policy
By KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, TOM HAMBURGER AND PAUL SONNE | The Washington Post | Published: September 23, 2020
WASHINGTON — A pair of Senate Republican committee chairmen released a report Wednesday that revived attacks on the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and argued his position with a Ukrainian energy company was “problematic,” but the report failed to show that it changed Obama administration policy toward Ukraine.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, co-authored the report, which comes just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and just days before President Donald Trump and former vice president Biden face off in the first presidential debate.
Much of the Republican report rehashes information that was already a key part of the GOP defense during the impeachment proceedings against Trump last year. The report concludes that “Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” while charging that he and other Biden relatives “cashed in on Joe Biden’s vice presidency.”
But at the same time, the report states that “the extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear.”
Top-ranking Democratic senators slammed the GOP report, saying its key findings were false and “rooted in a known Russian disinformation effort.” The accumulated testimony, they argued, showed no wrongdoing by Joe Biden.
“Chairman Johnson repeatedly impugned Vice President Biden in public on the basis of secret evidence he claimed to have obtained,” the Democrats said in their competing report, rebutting Johnson’s conclusion. “Contrary to his public insinuations, the Chairmen’s investigation found no evidence that the former vice president did anything wrong in his efforts to carry out official U.S foreign policy in Ukraine.”
The Democrats added, “All first-hand witnesses testified that Hunter Biden’s position of the board of Burisma had no impact whatsoever on United States foreign policy.”
Hunter Biden received a lucrative job on the board of Burisma while Joe Biden was vice president. At the time, Joe Biden and the Obama administration were seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine.
The Republicans’ report details how at least two administration officials, current deputy assistant secretary of State George Kent and former international energy envoy Amos Hochstein, raised concerns that “Russian actors” might try to undermine Joe Biden’s anti-corruption message in Ukraine by highlighting his son’s affiliation with Burisma. In 2015, Hochstein raised those concerns directly with both the vice president and his son.
Kent testified last year in the House’s impeachment investigation of Trump and dismissed allegations that Joe Biden did anything wrong, saying the former vice president’s actions were consistent with U.S. policy.
Democrats argue that Johnson has “repeatedly impugned” Biden, and pointed to his recent comments hinting that the report would shed light on Biden’s “unfitness for office,” as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to argue that the entire investigation was orchestrated as a smear campaign to benefit Trump.
In a statement issued before the report’s release, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates accused Johnson of trying “to subsidize a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars — an attack founded on a long-disproven, hardcore right-wing conspiracy theory that hinges on Sen. Johnson himself being corrupt and that the senator has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Finance Committee, called the report a “sham investigation” and “an attempted political hit job facilitated by the State Department” that serves to “push Russian disinformation.”
The investigation, which was launched last year, has been mired in controversy since the start, as Democrats accused Johnson and Grassley of running the probe to try to counter the House’s impeachment of Trump, who pressured Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.
Johnson and Grassley have defended the investigation as a legitimate probe into potential abuses of access to power. But the standoff took a darker turn this summer, when Democrats accused Johnson of laundering Russian disinformation through his probe — a charge Johnson and Grassley have rejected vehemently.
The accusation stems in part from public statements made by Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who previously belonged to a pro-Russian party, claiming to have sent documents to Johnson and Grassley to aid in their probe. In their rebuttal, Wyden and Homeland Security Committee ranking member Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., wrote that Johnson and Grassley’s report “is one outcome of Mr. Derkach’s election interference effort.”
Johnson and Grassley have stated repeatedly that they have had no contact with Derkach, who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department earlier this month as an “active Russian agent.”
But Johnson has had contact with another Ukrainian national, former diplomat Andriy Telizhenko, who once worked as a consultant for Blue Star Strategies, a lobbying firm that worked on behalf of Burisma. Telizhenko has advanced the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to boost Hillary Clinton and to undermine Trump. Recently, he also has been publishing unverified transcripts of tapes reflecting conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — tapes that Derkach has been publicizing as well.
The Democrats’ rebuttal states that Telizhenko has “close ties” to Derkach, and accuses him of “translating Mr. Derkach’s claims” to help “produce Russian disinformation for an American audience.”
Johnson and Grassley have said that they vetted all of Telizhenko’s information through other sources. Though both Ukrainians have a relationship with the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Telizhenko told The Post earlier this month that he barely knows Derkach and has taken pains to stay away from him.