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Sept. 24, 2020, 12:02 a.m. EDT

Republican Ron Johnson’s Ukraine report says Hunter Biden’s board position opened door to conflicts of interest for Obama

Report does not back oft-repeated Trump claim that then–Vice President Joe Biden insisted on firing of Ukraine prosecutor to benefit energy company Burisma, and Biden presidential campaign derides it as a product of right-wing conspiracy theories and pre-election desperation

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By Associated Press


Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks on Sept. 1 in Kenosha, Wis., as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., looks on.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican-led Senate committees issued a politically charged report Wednesday alleging that the work Joe Biden’s son did in Ukraine constituted a conflict of interest for the Obama administration at a time when Biden was engaged in Ukraine policy as vice president, but it offered no support for President Donald Trump’s long-running claim that the Democratic presidential nominee improperly pressed for the firing of the country’s top prosecutor to protect his son.

The report did not implicate Biden in wrongdoing, saying only that his son Hunter “cashed in” on his father’s position by joining the board of a Ukrainian gas company. The document says that work created conflict-of-interest concerns, including among two Obama administration officials, but acknowledged that it was “not clear” that Hunter Biden’s paid board position had an impact on U.S. policy with Ukraine.

Biden’s campaign immediately panned the report, released six weeks before the presidential election, as an effort by an ally of Trump’s to damage his election opponent. The campaign said the investigation was founded on “a long-disproven, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory” and, even before the report was released, issued a detailed statement aiming to rebut point-by-point allegations that it said had long been debunked by media organizations as well as by U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

Read: Mitt Romney says fellow Senate Republican Ron Johnson’s probe into Biden son is not a legitimate function of government

Also see: Obama officials raised concerns about Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine, GOP-led probe confirms

Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine remains a prominent line of attack in conservative circles heading into the election. Trump himself has repeatedly drawn attention to the issue, with his demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens spurring his impeachment. He’s continued to trumpet the claims even as his own administration has warned of a concerted Russian effort to denigrate Joe Biden and has asserted that a Ukrainian lawmaker who is involved in spreading an “unsubstantiated” anti-Biden narrative has been an “active Russian agent” for over a decade.

The investigation, from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee, produced stark political divisions. Democrats have accused Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, the Homeland Security chair, of a politically motivated initiative at a time when they say the committee should be focused on the pandemic response and other, less partisan issues.

See: Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson on defensive over probe of Biden and Ukraine in wake of intelligence assessment about ongoing Russian election interference

Johnson has acknowledged in interviews that he hoped to complete the report before the election, telling the Associated Press last month that the “American people deserve the truth” about his probe. But he has also been on the defensive over Democratic accusations that his investigation was serving to amplify Russian disinformation. He has denied receiving information from Andrii Derkach, the Ukrainian lawmaker singled out by intelligence officials.

After the report was released Wednesday, Johnson defended the probe to reporters as “a good investigation” by two committees with jurisdiction over corruption and conflicts of interest.

“There was nothing political about this,” he added.

In scrutinizing Hunter Biden’s financial dealings, the report details extensive payments to business interests from entities in Ukraine, Russia and China that its authors say raise counterintelligence and extortion concerns. But the crux of the document is that Hunter Biden’s lucrative involvement with the gas company Burisma posed a conflict of interest because Biden was vice president at the time and dealing with Ukraine policy.

It cites concerns from two officials, including one, George Kent, who was among the witnesses at impeachment proceedings against Trump last year. In one 2016 email, Kent, the former acting deputy chief of mission at the Kyiv embassy, described Hunter Biden’s presence on the Burisma board as “very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine.”

But the report also quotes Kent as telling lawmakers that there was never an occasion in which the embassy made a decision “where we took the presence of a private citizen on the board into account.”

Another State Department official, Amos Hochstein, is described in the report as having raised concerns directly to Biden because he was concerned Russians were using his son’s role with the company to sow disinformation. Biden did not take action, the report says.

The report says that though State Department officials regarded the head of the company, Mykola Zlochevsky, as corrupt, Biden did not confront him or link him to corruption.

“What the chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” the report says.

The report does not establish that any policy decisions were influenced by Biden’s position.

Notably, the report makes limited mention of the claim by Trump and some supporters that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, as a way to stymie an investigation into Burisma’s owner. The allegations were central to the impeachment case after Trump asked Ukraine’s president in a telephone call last year to investigate the Bidens.

The report includes only six references, including in footnotes, to Shokin and does not expose new information about any role Biden may have had in his ouster.

The Biden campaign pointed to news reports and public statements showing there was no active investigation into Burisma at the time of Shokin’s ouster in 2016, and that the firing of Shokin was broadly sought by U.S. and European officials, and reflected official Obama administration policy, as it was Shokin who was broadly perceived not to be taking aggressive action to stamp out corruption in the former Soviet republic.

Both Bidens have vigorously and consistently denied wrongdoing, and Hunter Biden has denied using his influence with his father to aid Burisma. But Republicans who came to Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial asked for further investigations. Johnson, a close Trump ally, took the lead.

“As the coronavirus death toll climbs and Wisconsinites struggle with joblessness, Ron Johnson has wasted months diverting the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee away from any oversight of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic, a threat Sen. Johnson has dismissed by saying that ‘death is an unavoidable part of life,’ ” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.

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