Text messages provided to Congress by former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker irrefutably show a clear quid pro quo. Full stop. Contrary to White House assertions, the congressionally approved military aid that Trump was unilaterally withholding at the time (and an invitation to the White House) was being used as leverage for pushing Zelensky to conduct an investigation into the Bidens.
In a speech last year before the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden recounted telling former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in December 2015 that the United States would withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee if then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin wasn’t removed from office. It was believed by both U.S. and European officials at the time that anti-corruption efforts had become sluggish under Shokin.
Said Biden: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b—-. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
Biden’s diplomatic triumph seemed to come at a propitious time for Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company for which Hunter Biden was serving as a board member. This potential conflict of interest is the basis for Trump’s consuming obsession with the Bidens and Ukraine.
Burisma had been under investigation, but for activities before Hunter Biden joined the company’s board in 2014. Indeed, it was under Shokin that the investigation into the company stalled. In 2015, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine decried Shokin’s laggardly attention to corruption throughout the country, and Shokin’s ouster was greeted by Western diplomats as a victory.
Most, if not all, of what Trump thinks he knows about the Bidens and Ukraine has come from his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly has been all over the map, from Madrid to Warsaw to Paris, working back channels and coaxing Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate a conspiracy commensurate with the president’s appetite for same.
Giuliani’s conclusion and, therefore, Trump’s, is that the Bidens were in cahoots to issue $1 billion in loan guarantees in exchange for Shokin’s firing, thus putting an end to the Burisma investigation. Judging from Post interviews with some of these prosecutors — and with other Ukraine experts — it’s possible that Giuliani was being fed information by Ukrainian officials that may or may not have been true as a means of currying favor with Giuliani (and by extension Trump), thereby enhancing their own political status within Ukraine’s power structure.
Such byzantine calculations remind us that quids and quos come in a variety of flavors and textures, some tastier than others.
So far, no strong evidence has emerged that the Bidens did anything wrong, but the optics aren’t pretty for Joe or his son. Perhaps Hunter was just naive (or proud) enough to believe that he was tapped for the Burisma board on his merits. Maybe he really believed that his father, as vice president of the United States and the point man for the Obama administration’s Ukrainian policy — pushing for increased gas production while withholding monetary backing until Shokin was fired — had nothing to do with anything at all.
But it’s at least as likely that Hunter was knowingly profiting from his father’s position. He was paid as much as $50,000 a month to sit on the board of a company in an industry in which he had no experience. And he got the job just as his father was urging Ukraine to increase its gas production.
Perception is everything in politics. Depending upon one’s politics, Trump’s leveraged “favor” may not seem any worse than Biden’s threat to withhold loan guarantees essential to Ukraine’s developing a budget until another official was fired. But there is a difference. What Biden sought had international backing, and the loan guarantees were always tied to anti-corruption measures. What Trump sought places our global diplomatic positioning in jeopardy and Ukraine’s future in peril. By Trump’s abuse of power — and his entreaty to other countries, including China, to join our political fracas — he may have invited criminal prosecution and impeachment.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Read more from Kathleen Parker’s archive, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.
The Post’s View: Trump’s corruption is black and white
David Von Drehle: The Hunter Biden story is a troubling tale of privilege
Megan McArdle: One day, the Trump superpower of his shameless self-regard may fail him
Dana Milbank: It was never about ‘America First.’ It’s always been Trump first.
Alexandra Petri: A guide to the stages of Trump denial