WASHINGTON, DC — Top State Department official George Kent told the House impeachment investigators Wednesday that some U.S. officials, including himself, pushed for reopening a “scuttled investigation” into the owner of Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings, which hired then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter in 2014.
That means Kent did what the Democrats are trying to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump over — urging Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against the former vice president and his son, who worked for Burisma from 2014 until April of this year.
The testimony from Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state charged with overseeing U.S. policy towards Ukraine, came during the first public impeachment inquiry hearing Wednesday.
In his closed-door deposition on October 15, Kent indicated that the Obama administration allowed Hunter to continue working with Burisma even after learning that Ukraine, in collaboration with the U.S., were investigating corruption accusations against the firm and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky.
American officials wanted to hold responsible corrupt Ukrainian prosecutors who allegedly took bribes to bury the investigation into Burisma owner Zlochevsky, Kent testified Wednesday, adding:
I did not witness any effort by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. In fact, I and other U.S. officials consistently advocated reinstitution a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who hold the closed the case to account.
In early 2015, I raised questions with the deputy prosecutor general about why the investigation of Mr. Zlochevsky had been terminated based on our belief that prosecutors had accepted bribes to close the case. After, I became aware that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma. Soon after that in a briefing call with the national security staff of the office of the Vice President in February 2015, I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest.
The Obama administration ignored Kent’s concerns about Hunter’s work in Ukraine.
In 2014, the U.S. spent nearly half a million dollars in American taxpayer funds in support of an investigation into corrupt activities linked to Burisma owner Zlochevsky, Kent testified behind closed doors on October 15.
“The pervasive and long-standing problem of corruption in Ukraine included exposure to a situation involving the energy company Burisma. The primary concern with the U.S. governments since 2014 was Burisma’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, whose frozen assets abroad we had attempted to recover on Ukraine’s behalf,” Kent told lawmakers Wednesday.
Kent went on to highlight the possibility of “criminal nexuses” between activities in Ukraine and the United States.
“U.S. law enforcement should pursue the case. If we think there has been a criminal act overseas that violates U.S. law, we have the institutional mechanisms to address that,” he added. “It could be through the Justice Department and FBI agents assigned overseas or through treated mechanisms such as the mutual legal assistance treaty.”
While his father was in charge of U.S. policy towards Ukraine, Hunter began serving on Burisma’s board of directors in 2014. At the crux of the impeachment probe is an allegedly anti-Trump “whistleblower’s” complaint accusing the U.S. president of engaging in a quid pro quo in which he leveraged U.S. aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate corruption allegations against the Bidens. Trump and Ukraine deny the claim.
Echoing Kent, State Department specialist on Ukraine Catherine Croft told House impeachment investigators when she testified on October 30 that at least one unnamed official was “annoyed” and concerned about Hunter’s position at Ukraine.
The unnamed official’s concerns stemmed from “just sort of a general concern about the appearance of the vice president’s son doing business in Ukraine,” Croft testified.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment inquisitor, has denied the Republican’s request for testimony from Hunter and the “whistleblower,” whose complaint triggered the probe to testify despite the leaker and Hunter being at the center of the impeachment probe.
Ukraine quashed the corruption investigation into Burisma before investigators reached any conclusions. The Bidens, nevertheless, have denied any wrongdoing.
House Democrats’ pursuing the partisan impeachment probe are trying to determine if Trump abused his power by urging Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against Bidens in exchange for aid. Some impeachment probe witnesses have indicated that there is merit to claims of corruption potentially linked to Hunter Biden’s interactions Ukraine. Schiff, however, is blocking Hunter from testifying, irking GOP lawmakers.
In early October, Ukraine announced plans to review a probe into Burisma. “Prosecutor General Russian Ryaboshapka said his office will revisit 15 investigations, including ones involving the company, Burisma, and the owner of the company, former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky,” United Press International noted.
The House Intelligence Committee is leading the impeachment probe, collaborating with the panels on oversight and reform and intelligence.