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Ukrainian Corruption and Separating Fact from Fiction with Rudy Giuliani, Burisma and Hunter Biden

Part 1 of “Everything I Learned from the Impeachment of Donald Trump”

The year was 2014. Barack Obama was President, Donald Trump was merely a reality TV star with a history of dubious business ventures, and Obama’s “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations had achieved some positive cooperation — a new nuclear arms treaty, U.S. support of Russia’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization, and the strengthening of sanctions on Iran — and yet the positives had given way to renewed tensions: Vladimir Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of meddling in Russian politics when she questioned the fairness of the 2012 elections that brought Putin back to Russia’s presidency. Overall though, things appeared relatively normal. There were no sanctions on Russia and no outright conflict. In the blink of an eye, everything would change.

In early 2014, the pro-Russian President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was suddenly overthrown by a popular revolution angry about rampant corruption and the President’s proposed economic agreement with Russia.

A week after President Yanukovych fled the country for Russia, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, taking Crimea and later mobilizing pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The U.S. and its European allies enacted sanctions against Russia and started pouring aid into new Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko’s government.

In April 2014, mere months after the revolution, the Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky had $23 million in assets frozen by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office as part of an attempt to recover billions in Ukrainian funds stolen by the previous pro-Russian president Yanukovych that he and his cronies had stashed abroad. That same month, Zlochevsky’s company Burisma Holdings, one of the largest natural gas companies in the country, announced that it was hiring Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden to the company’s board of directors. Even at the time the appointment of Hunter Biden was seen as hugely problematic, not least because of the potential conflict of interest Hunter could represent for the Vice President. The decision was summarily slammed by the Washington Post: “The appointment of the vice president’s son to a Ukrainian oil board looks nepotistic at best, nefarious at worst.”

In January, 2015, a British judge ordered that Zlochevsky’s assets be unfrozen after senior prosecutors in Ukraine sent a letter stating that Zlochevsky was not suspected of any crimes, even when Ukrainian deputy prosecutors had been scrambling to collect evidence to send to the British. Then, in March a deputy prosecutor went on TV to accuse senior Ukrainian prosecutors of taking a $7 million bribe from Zlochevsky to help him escape justice. In September of that year, the US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt delivered a scathing speech directed at the Ukrainian authorities, saying “Those responsible for subverting the case by authorizing those letters should — at a minimum — be summarily terminated.” It is within this context that Vice President Joe Biden gave President Poroshenko an ultimatum in late 2015: fire head Prosecutor Victor Shokin, or lose $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees.

Rudy Giuliani has claimed in numerous unhinged Fox News interviews that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine into firing Prosecutor Shokin to protect Hunter Biden’s corrupt dealings with Zlochevsky and Burisma. In addition, Giuliani alleges that it was actually Biden who received the multi-million dollar bribe from Zlochevsky to protect him and Burisma:

The allegations blatantly contradict the facts. If Biden’s actions were part of an effort to protect Zlochevsky and Burisma, why would Biden pressure Ukraine to remove the head prosecutor whose office had helped Zlochevsky escape justice less than a year earlier with the letter they sent to the British authorities that claimed the oligarch was innocent? What’s more, the deputy Ukrainian prosecutor who had been collecting evidence for the British before being blindsided by the letter says that the Ukrainian investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma had been shelved in 2014 and remained dormant through 2015 when Biden gave his ultimatum, contradicting Giuliani’s claim that Biden removed Shokin to thwart the head prosecutor’s investigation into Burisma. Finally, the decision to give the ultimatum was not made by Joe Biden but by the State Department, and was supported by the international community and anti-corruption organizations within Ukraine; Biden was merely the messenger. While Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board of directors was an objectively stupid move that is now helping torpedo his father’s presidential bid, it clearly had nothing to do with the removal of Prosecutor Shokin.

On February 6, the Daily Beast reported that a 162-page memo titled “Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration,” that was leaked from Fox News’ own research department warns that Giuliani is “spreading disinformation” on its programs. Yet there was Giuliani on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures show February 9, 2020 in a segment titled “Rudy Giuliani lays out the Bidens’ corruption in Ukraine,” and then again on the Trish Regan show on February 13, reading what he claims is a Latvian government document that states Burisma and Hunter Biden “are involved in a corruption affair,” and that the document proves that Shokin was in fact fired for investigating Burisma. It’s not clear whether Giuliani knows he is spreading disinformation; it’s entirely possible that he truly believes in the integrity of his sources, after all the man once known as “America’s Mayor” is now 75 years old and appears to have lost a few marbles along the way. What’s far more sinister is that Fox News is knowingly and willingly passing on this disinformation to its millions of viewers.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of my 5-part series: How Two Unknown Dual Nationals Removed a US Ambassador, and How Their Scheme Stinks of Putin

Riley Schenck is a politics junkie who has worked extensively on international development projects in Mexico

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