The Obama administration was fully aware of the conflict of interest posed by Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, taking a board position with Ukrainian gas firm Burisma — and consistently ducked questions about it.
Hunter Biden was appointed to a well-compensated board position with the firm in 2014, while Ukraine was in the midst of a political crisis and while the company was under scrutiny for alleged corruption. His father was leading U.S. diplomatic efforts in Ukraine at the time. Hunter Biden only left the company’s board earlier this year, once his father began running for president — a belated acknowledgment of at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Last month, State Department official George Kent told the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors that he had raised the issue with the Vice President’s office in 2015: “I raised my concerns that I had heard that Hunter Biden was on the board of a company owned by somebody that the U.S. Government had spent money trying to get tens of milljons of dollars back and that could create the perception of a conflict of interest.” However, he was told that Vice President Biden was dealing with the failing health of his other son, Beau, and could not address the issue.
Kent then testified in the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry that he had raised the issue of Hunter Biden’s involvement in Burisma within the administration. “I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest,” he said. However, nothing was done about it.
The matter was also raised in public. As the Washington Free Beacon noted in 2014, both White House press secretary Jay Carney and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki were asked in May 2014 (by Jonathan Karl of ABC and Matt Lee of the Associated Press, respectively) about Hunter Biden’s appointment to Burisma. In each case, the press was told Hunter Biden was a “private citizen,” and to refer questions to the vice president’s office.
Here are the video and transcript of the exchange at the White House between Karl and Carney:
KARL: On another subject, Hunter Biden has now taken a position with the largest oil and gas company — holding company in Ukraine. Is there any concern about at least the appearance of a conflict there — for the Vice President’s son to take a —
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Vice President’s office. I saw those reports. Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the Vice President or President. But I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.
And here are the video and transcript of the exchange at the State Department between Lee and Psaki:
QUESTION: Can we say that this is Russia-related —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — but it’s more Ukraine. And I know that this question was raised at the White House briefing —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — and it was – the question was referred to the Vice President’s office. But I’m wondering if the State Department has any concerns or any thoughts about the Vice President’s son joining the board of directors of this Ukrainian gas company? Does – in particular, I understand why the White House would refer this to the Vice President’s office, but does this building, diplomatically, have any concerns about potential perceptions of conflict or, slash, cronyism, which is what you have often accused the Russians of doing?
MS. PSAKI: No, he’s a private citizen.
QUESTION: I – okay, but then so the – you consider that the Russian oligarchs who control – or the Ukrainian oligarchs who control these, they’re all private citizens as well, correct?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly wouldn’t put them in the same category, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that – I’m not – and I’m not suggesting that it should be in the same category, but I’m wondering if there are concerns from this building about the perception of – about how the Russians and/or the Ukrainians would perceive the involvement of a son of the Vice President of the United States in this, especially given the situation.
MS. PSAKI: No, there are not.
QUESTION: None. Okay.
Psaki actually claimed that there were no concerns in the State Department about Hunter Biden and Burisma. We now know that at some point, at least by 2015, officials like George Kent were indeed raising their concerns.
In 2016, the Obama administration prepared Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch for her confirmation hearing by briefing her about Hunter Biden and Burisma in case she was asked about it. As she testified to the impeachment inquiry earlier this month, it was the only company she remembered being briefed about, even though there were undoubtedly other problematic companies in Ukraine. She was told to refer questions to the vice president’s office. Once in her post, the supposed corruption-busting ambassador never raised the issue of Burisma, she testified.
Earlier that year, Ukraine fired its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, at the urging of Vice President Biden, who later admitted in a now-infamous video that he threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Shokin was dismissed. There have been conflicting reports about whether Shokin was investigating Burisma at the time; it seems to have been “dormant” at the time — i.e. neither an active investigation, nor a closed one.
But the fact that the issue of Hunter Biden and Burisma was raised publicly and internally during the Obama administration — including in the White House briefing room — raises questions about why President Barack Obama never did anything to address it, and why the press showed little interest in following up on the issue, until now.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.