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GOP senators’ report calls Hunter Biden’s board position with Ukraine firm ‘problematic’ but doesn’t show it changed U.S. policy

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) earlier this month. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

A pair of Republican Senate committee chairmen released a report Wednesday that revived attacks on the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and argued his position with a Ukrainian energy company was “problematic,” but the report did not show that it influenced the then-vice president’s behavior or changed the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) co-authored the report, which comes just weeks before the Nov. 3 election and just days before President Trump and former vice president Biden face off in the first presidential debate.

Much of the Republican report rehashes information that was already a key part of the GOP defense during the impeachment proceedings against Trump last year. The report concludes that “Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” while charging that he and other Biden relatives “cashed in on Joe Biden’s vice presidency.”

The Fact Checker unravels what happened when Trump tried to force an investigation into the false rumor about then-Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

But at the same time, the report states that “the extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear.”

Top-ranking Democratic senators slammed the GOP report, saying its key findings were false and “rooted in a known Russian disinformation effort.” The accumulated testimony, they argued, showed no wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

“Chairman Johnson repeatedly impugned Vice President Biden in public on the basis of secret evidence he claimed to have obtained,” the Democrats said in their competing report, rebutting Johnson’s conclusion. “Contrary to his public insinuations, the Chairmen’s investigation found no evidence that the former vice president did anything wrong in his efforts to carry out official U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine.”

The Democrats added, “All first-hand witnesses testified that Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma had no impact whatsoever on United States foreign policy.”

Hunter Biden received a lucrative job on the Burisma board while Joe Biden was vice president. At the time, Joe Biden and the Obama administration were seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine.

The Republicans’ report details how at least two administration officials, current deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent and former international energy envoy Amos Hochstein, raised concerns that “Russian actors” might try to undermine Joe Biden’s anti-corruption message in Ukraine by highlighting his son’s affiliation with Burisma. In 2015, Hochstein raised those concerns directly with the vice president and his son.

Kent testified last year in the House’s impeachment investigation of Trump and dismissed allegations that Joe Biden did anything wrong, saying the former vice president’s actions were consistent with U.S. policy.

Democrats argue that Johnson has “repeatedly impugned” Biden, and they pointed to his recent comments hinting that the report would shed light on Biden’s “unfitness for office,” as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to argue that the entire investigation was orchestrated as a smear campaign to benefit Trump.

In a statement issued before the report’s release, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates accused Johnson of trying “to subsidize a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars — an attack founded on a long-disproven, hardcore right-wing conspiracy theory that hinges on Sen. Johnson himself being corrupt and that the senator has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.”

Republican-led probe of Biden, Ukraine nears a close

In a series of tweets, Hunter Biden’s daughter Naomi, 26, offered a personal tribute to her father.

“Though the whole world knows his name, no one knows who he is,” she tweeted. “Here’s a thread on my dad, Hunter Biden — free of charge to the taxpayers and free of the corrosive influence of power-at-all-costs politics. The truth of a man filled with love, integrity, and human struggles.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, called the report a “sham investigation” and “an attempted political hit job facilitated by the State Department” that serves to “push Russian disinformation.”

The investigation, launched last year, has been mired in controversy since the start. Democrats accused Johnson and Grassley of running the probe to try to counter the House’s impeachment of Trump, who pressured Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.

Johnson and Grassley have defended the investigation as a legitimate probe of potential abuses of access to power. But the standoff took a darker turn this summer, when Democrats accused Johnson of laundering Russian disinformation through his probe — a charge Johnson and Grassley have vehemently rejected.

The accusation stems in part from public statements made by Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who previously belonged to a pro-Russian party, in which he claimed to have sent documents to Johnson and Grassley to aid in their probe. In their rebuttal, Wyden and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote that Johnson and Grassley’s report “is one outcome of Mr. Derkach’s election interference effort.”

Johnson and Grassley have stated repeatedly that they have had no contact with Derkach, who earlier this month was hit with sanctions from the Treasury Department, which described him as an “active Russian agent.”

But Johnson has had contact with another Ukrainian national, former diplomat Andriy Telizhenko, who once worked as a consultant for Blue Star Strategies, a lobbying firm that worked on behalf of Burisma. Telizhenko has advanced the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to boost Democrat Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump. Recently, he also has been publishing unverified transcripts of recordings allegedly reflecting conversations between then-Vice President Biden and then-President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine — recordings that Derkach has been publicizing as well.

The Democrats’ rebuttal states that Telizhenko has “close ties” to Derkach and accuses him of “translating Mr. Derkach’s claims” to help “produce Russian disinformation for an American audience.”

Johnson and Grassley have said that they vetted all of Telizhenko’s information through other sources. Though both Ukrainians have a relationship with Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, Telizhenko told The Post earlier this month that he barely knows Derkach and has taken pains to stay away from him.

U.S. sanctions Ukrainian lawmaker tied to Giuliani as ‘active Russian agent’

The GOP’s report also addresses Hunter Biden’s business dealings with foreign individuals and entities during and after his father’s vice presidency, arguing that his transactions with foreign parties “illustrate serious counterintelligence and extortion concerns relating to Hunter Biden and his family.”

Through this period, Hunter Biden was and remains a private citizen.

A similar argument has been made regarding Trump, who has retained his ownership in businesses that take money from foreign clients while serving as president, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Similar counterintelligence concerns have also been raised regarding Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, whom career officials initially denied a top-secret security clearance, amid concerns about his foreign contacts. Kushner’s family has continued to engage in foreign business transactions while he serves in the White House and works on foreign policy.

In an interview with Axios late last year, Joe Biden pledged that his family wouldn't engage in any foreign business activities if he were elected president. “They will not be engaged in any foreign business, because of what's happened in this administration,” the former vice president said. “No one is going to be seeking patents for things from China. No one is going to be engaged in that kind of thing.”

The Senate GOP report suggests that while his father was vice president, companies associated with Hunter Biden received money from Russian tycoon Yelena Baturina, who is the widow of former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and is a member of Kazakhstan’s political elite. It is unclear from the report whether those transactions actually involved Hunter Biden directly or were ventures of his business partner, Devon Archer.

George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, said the report "falsely alleges that Hunter Biden had a financial relationship with Russian businesswoman Yelena Baturina and that he received $3.5 million from Baturina." Mesires said Hunter Biden had no interest in and was “not a co-founder of” the company paid by Baturina, the wife of Moscow's late mayor.

The records in the report also detail a number of transactions that took place after Joe Biden left the vice presidency. Those primarily involve Ye Jianming, a Chinese oil tycoon who was taken into custody by Chinese authorities in 2018 after one of his top aides was convicted in a U.S. federal court of bribing officials in Chad and Uganda for oil contracts.

According to the New York Times, Ye had made inroads with Joe Biden’s brother James Biden, as well as Hunter Biden, as the Chinese tycoon sought to build influence in the United States. In early 2018, according to the report, Hunter Biden was paid $1 million to represent Ye’s aide while he was facing the federal bribery charges in the United States.

Spokespeople for Archer and James Biden did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In August 2017, a subsidiary of Ye’s company wired $5 million into the bank account of a U.S. company called Hudson West III, which over the next 13 months sent $4.79 million marked as consulting fees to Hunter Biden’s firm, the report said. Over the same period, Hunter Biden’s firm wired some $1.4 million to a firm associated with his uncle and aunt, James and Sara Biden, according to the report.

In late 2017, Hunter Biden and a financier associated with Ye also opened a line of credit for Hudson West III that authorized credit cards for Hunter Biden, James Biden and Sara Biden, according to the report, which says the Bidens used the credit cards to purchase more than $100,000 worth of items, including airline tickets and purchases at hotels and restaurants.

In a 2019 interview with the New Yorker, Hunter Biden said he was working with Ye to identify investments in the United States, including a substantial liquefied natural gas investment in Louisiana. But he said the deal fell through after Chinese authorities detained Ye.

Hunter Biden told the New Yorker he did not consider Ye to be “a shady character at all” and said the situation was “bad luck.”

The panel interviewed about a dozen witnesses in the investigation, including Blue Star employees. The panel also interviewed Hochstein and former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken, both close Biden advisers, as well as two current ambassadors, Geoffrey Pyatt, who previously was the top diplomat in Ukraine, and Bridget Brink, who was previously the deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for Ukraine. Kent, former assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, former National Security Council Eastern Europe director Liz Zentos, and David Wade, the chief of staff for John F. Kerry when he was secretary of state, also spoke to investigators in the probe.

Last week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to release the transcript of all interviews alongside the report, but the transcripts were not provided to the media early Wednesday. Late Tuesday, Peters protested that decision in a letter to Johnson, saying his “violation of the unanimous vote of this Committee . . . would further weaken the Committee’s ability to effectively carry out its responsibilities on behalf of the public in the future.”