The United States Senate is probing whether a lobbying firm working on the behalf of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil and gas conglomerate, leveraged the company’s ties to Hunter Biden for access to the State Department.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday asking his department to provide all records pertaining to Hunter Biden, Burisma, and any intermediaries. In particular, Grassley requested the State Dept. provide further information about meetings Blue Star Strategies, a Washington, D.C. based lobbying and public relations firm, sought with U.S. officials in 2016 to discuss public corruption allegations against Burisma.
The letter comes after a Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) lawsuit revealed representatives of Blue Star Strategies specifically invoked Hunter Biden, who at the time sat on Burisma’s board of directors, when trying to secure the meeting. At the time, Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, were under suspicion for money laundering and public corruption. The allegations stem from Zlochevsky’s tenure as Ukraine’s minister of ecology and natural resources in the early 2010s, where it is purported he used his position to approve oil and gas licenses for Burisma.
Grassley’s letter was sent in conjunction with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Both men have taken a keen interest in Hunter Biden’s business dealings overseas and the potential conflicts of interest they may have posed for his father, former Vice President Joe Biden, throughout his tenure in the Obama administration. In this instance, Grassely and Johnson are investigating whether the meeting with Blue Star and U.S. officials ever took place and if it influenced Obama administration policy towards Ukraine.
Only one month after the meeting request was made, then-Vice President Biden issued an ultimatum to then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: either the government fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, or the U.S. would rescind upwards of $1 billion in aid.
According to Biden’s official recollection of the incident, he issued the ultimatum on behalf of then-President Barack Obama, who had lost faith in Shokin’s ability to root out corruption. Unofficially, though, it was well known that that Shokin was ramping up his investigation into both Burisma and Zlochvesky.
Shokin’s probe had progressed far enough that he was able to convince the Ukrainian courts in early 2016 to seize Zlochvesky’s remaining assets in the country. The oligarch only evaded arrest because he was already hiding abroad after having fled Ukraine in 2014, when a pro-western uprising toppled his allies in the country’s then-pro-Russian government.
Adding to the appearance of conflicting interests behind the former vice president’s decision to oust Shokin is that the prosecutor has claimed he was preparing to interview Hunter Biden about his Burisma tenure when he was fired.
The revelations come into the spotlight as questions mount as to how Hunter Biden was able to secure an appointment to Burisma’s board in the first place. As Peter Schweizer, senior contributor at Breitbart News, detailed in his book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, Hunter Biden secured the position, which paid as much as $83,000 per month, despite having no background in energy or Ukraine.
Adding to the appearance of impropriety is the fact that Hunter Biden joined Burisma at a time the company was seen as actively courting western leaders to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. The same month the younger’s Biden appointment was announced, the government of Great Britain froze accounts belonging to Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky under suspicion of money laundering. Zlochevsky, a former Ukrainian minister of natural resources, would later be accused of corruption for using his office to approve oil and gas licenses to Burisma.
A Ukrainian official with strong ties to Zlochevsky admitted in October the only reason that Hunter Biden secured the appointment was to “protect” the company from foreign scrutiny. The claim has credence given that at the time Joe Biden, as the sitting vice president, was tasked with leading the Obama administration’s policy towards Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
Hunter Biden, himself, admitted his father’s political influence was the likely reason for his appointment to Burisma’s board during a recent ABC News interview.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably not, in retrospect,” the younger Biden said when asked if he would have been tapped for the lucrative job had his father not been the sitting vice president. He quickly added, though, that his family’s political prominence had always played a large role in his dealings. “But that’s—you know—I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden.”