Another star witness of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry admitted on Wednesday that Hunter Biden’s wheeling and dealing in Ukraine had the appearance of a conflict of interest for his father, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was questioned by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) while testifying before the House Intelligence about Hunter Biden’s position on the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil and gas conglomerate.
Stefanik, in particular, wanted to know if Sondland believed the younger Biden’s work with Burisma had the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially because it began shortly after Joe Biden was tapped to lead Obama-era policy in Ukraine.
“Clearly it’s an appearance of a conflict,” Sondland told lawmakers, echoing a sentiment expressed by other witnesses of the inquiry.
Since the impeachment inquiry went public last week, five witnesses congressional Democrats claim are key to their impeachment case have told lawmakers that Hunter Biden’s role had the appearance of a conflict.
The admissions came from career foreign service officer former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanvitch, national security officials, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and even political appointees like Theresa Williams, a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.
On the first day of the inquiry, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent even admitted that the younger Biden’s dealings with Burisma had troubled him so much that he had reached out to then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office in 2015 about the matter.
“In a briefing call with…the office of the Vice President…I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as a [Burisma] board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” Kent testified.
The admissions have undermined the argument Democrats are making that Trump’s suggestion Ukraine investigate Hunter Biden and Burisma amounted to an impeachable offense.
At the center of controversy is how and why Hunter Biden secured the appointment, which at times paid more than $83,000 a month. 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 had no prior experience with either the energy industry or Ukraine before joining Burisma in April 2014. In fact, his background in investment banking, lobbying, and hedge fund management paled in comparison to that of current and past members of the company’s board of directors.
Adding to concerns is the fact that, at the time Hunter Biden joined Burisma, the company was seen as actively courting western leaders to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. The same month Hunter Biden was tapped for the group’s board, the government of Great Britain froze accounts belonging to 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 companies under his control. 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.
It is in the context of Burisma and Zlochevsky’s legal troubles that Joe Biden’s political influence has raised the most red flags. The former vice president has particularly drawn questions over his conduct in demanding the Ukrainian government fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
Joe Biden, who has publicly bragged about the firing, reportedly threatened to withhold more than one billion dollars in U.S. aid if the Ukrainian government did not remove Shokin. He has claimed the demand came from then-President Barack Obama, who had allegedly lost faith in the prosecutor’s ability to tackle corruption.
Unofficially, though, it was known that Shokin was investigating both Burisma and Zlochevsky for public corruption. It is uncertain if the probe extended to Hunter Biden, although Shokin has recently admitted that prior to his ouster he was warned to back off the matter. Regardless of what occurred, Shokin’s successor, who is now himself being investigated for public corruption, dropped the investigation into Burisma and Zlochevsky.
The situation only became more complicated in October when 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.”