President Trump’s defenders in Congress increasingly point to the importance of investigating corruption in Ukraine allegedly involving former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, which is the centerpiece of the impeachment inquiry.
While absent from House Democrats’ impeachment probe, questions persist about Hunter Biden’s high-paying job on a Ukraine natural-gas company while his father was the point man for the Obama White House in Ukraine, a country notorious for corruption, especially in the energy industry.
“I don’t see how you can litigate the allegations against the president without litigating the allegations against Hunter Biden. They are inextricably linked,” Sen. John N. Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, told The Washington Times.
Hunter Biden picked up about $850,000 while serving on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukraine natural gas company, despite having no experience in that field. Hunter also profited in China, where his father was spearheading U.S. foreign policy, inking a $1.5 billion deal with an investment firm connected to the government in Beijing.
And the elder Mr. Biden famously bragged last year that he pushed Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, a move critics say aimed to stop an investigation of Burisma, which the prosecutor has said he was investigating at the time.
The suspicions of corruption that still swirl around Burisma include accusations of tax evasion and claims that Burisma owner Mykola Vladislavovich Zlochevsky used his position as minister of natural resources to secure for his company a dozen natural gas contracts.
Democrats poo-poo allegations of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
“Almost everyone who has looked at [the allegations] says there’s nothing there,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “This is a smokescreen This is a distraction to distract from very real evidence of [President Trump’s] abuse of power and putting our national security at risk. They want to distract all of us from what this president has done.”
Mr. Hoyer said the Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, wasn’t fired because of the Hunter Biden probe, but rather because he ignored the corruption in his country.
“Clearly, the whole Western world thought it was a corrupt prosecutor,” he said.
Still, an impeachment trial in the Senate will open an examination of the merits of investigating the Bidens, who Democrats contend were singled out by Mr. Trump solely because he is a political rival.
“There are two possible scenarios here,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Our Democratic friends say the president asked for the investigation of a political rival. The alternative point of view is the president asked for an investigation of someone who happens to be a political rival. There is a big difference. That latter would be in the national interest. The former would be in the president’s self-interest.”
An administration official questioned in the impeachment probe said he raised alarms in early 2015 about Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma. State Department official George Kent told congressional investigators he worried it was a conflict of interest and was rebuffed when broached the issue with the then-vice president’s staff, according to reports.
Mr. Kent said in closed-door testimony that Mr. Biden’s staff said there was no “bandwidth” to address the Ukraine situation because Mr. Biden’s other son, Beau, was fighting brain cancer.
The testimony of Mr. Kent has spurred some to call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the Bidens’ Ukraine dealings.
“This would be a perfectly legitimate inquiry,” said Hans Van Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official and now a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
“The Justice Department’s public integrity section ought to be looking into this, particularly the former vice president admitting on tape he threatened the Ukraine government if they didn’t fire the prosecutor and the gas company paying Hunter an outrageous amount per month to sit on the board when he no experience,” he said.
Another former Justice Department official, J. Christian Adams, said such an investigation at Justice would likely be blocked by career bureaucrats at the department, who tend to lean left.
“The department is set up in a way that the lower levels of bureaucracy get the first crack at any investigation,” he said. “They are the ones talking to witnesses and shaping the narrative. The attorney general doesn’t have the time to do that. This is what Trump’s base doesn’t understand, the attorney general can’t issue an order and the DOJ falls in line and does it. It doesn’t work that way.”
Such a probe would also create political headaches for Attorney General William P. Barr, who is already taking heat from Democrats for authorizing John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to investigate the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.
When it was announced last week that Mr. Durham’s probe had escalated to a criminal investigation, Democrats complained that the president was using the agency to target political opponents.
Mr. Barr likely has reached his capacity for politically-charged investigation.
“The attorney general, who is attempting to do the right thing, only has so much political capital in the tank,” Mr. Adams said. “Going after Hunter Biden would burn up most of that capital. This would get sucked into the framework of the entire impeachment saga.”
While a Justice Department review is unlikely, Ukraine’s top prosecutor said last month his office is reviewing his predecessor’s decision to shutter the Burisma probe.
Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka said the case is one of several he is taking another look at, but added that he was unaware of any evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
• Gabriella Muñoz and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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