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Trump campaign trots out former business associate of Hunter Biden ahead of debate

Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, attended the final presidential debate as a guest of the Trump campaign. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A former business associate of Hunter Biden, invited by President Trump to attend the final presidential debate, alleged beforehand in a staged event that he discussed a business deal involving a Chinese firm with Joe Biden and his son after the former vice president left office.

The business associate’s appearance Thursday night, organized by the Trump campaign, was the latest episode in a multiyear effort by Trump and his allies to use Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings as a cudgel against his father’s campaign, activities that led to Trump’s impeachment late last year.

That crusade to surface dirt on Hunter Biden has climaxed in the final days before the Nov. 3 vote, with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani — who himself takes money from foreign clients while representing the president for free — claiming to have obtained Hunter Biden’s private emails, photos and texts from a Delaware computer repairman and given them to the New York Post.

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met for a debate on Oct. 22. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the emails. The Post has on multiple occasions asked Giuliani and Trump’s former top adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, for copies of what they allege is Hunter Biden’s hard drive but has received no response.

The debate attendance of Hunter Biden’s former business associate, Tony Bobulinski, recalled Trump’s gambit in 2016, when he invited women who had accused former president Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to his second debate with Hillary Clinton, averting attention from the release of the “Access Hollywood” video that recorded Trump bragging about sexual assault.

Bobulinski’s accusations involve activities that are alleged to have taken place in 2017 — after Joe Biden had left public office, when it was far from clear he would be a candidate in the 2020 race. Biden was permitted to engage in business at that point like any private citizen, though he has denied any overseas dealings.

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Bobulinski alleged that in May 2017, he met the former vice president, Hunter Biden and Joe Biden’s brother Jim to discuss a joint venture with the Chinese energy firm CEFC, disputing the Democratic nominee’s long-standing assertion that he never discussed foreign business dealings with his son.

Bobulinski was one of the recipients on an email from May 2017 that Giuliani provided to the New York Post in which another business associate appeared to ask whether Hunter Biden would hold a stake in the new venture with the Chinese firm for “the big guy.” Bobulinski said the email was authentic and described “the big guy” as a reference to Joe Biden. The deal did not proceed as outlined in the email.

James Gilliar, the other business associate who sent the email, said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal that he was unaware of any involvement by the former vice president in the discussions, and the activity in question never delivered any project revenue. The Journal said it reviewed corporate records for the deal and found no role for Joe Biden.

“Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “He has never held stock in any such business arrangements, nor has any family member or any other person ever held stock for him.”

Trump’s provocative move on Thursday comes as he faces a lawsuit alleging that his business dealings with foreign officials at his Washington hotel violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and days after the New York Times reported that Trump held a Chinese bank account under a corporate name, which paid taxes to Chinese authorities as Trump’s firm pursued Chinese licensing deals from 2013 to 2015.

Bates said, “In contrast to Vice President Biden, Donald Trump has a secret Chinese bank account and pays more in taxes in China than he pays in federal income taxes in the United States.” Bates described Bobulinski’s appearance ahead of the debate as “a desperate, pathetic farce executed by a flailing campaign with no rationale.”

Bobulinski did not respond to requests for comment from The Post.

Trump referenced Bobulinski’s news conference during the debate, in between lobbing false accusations that Joe Biden took money from various foreign countries.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden responded, saying he had released 22 years of tax returns, while Trump hadn’t released a single year. “What are you hiding?” Biden asked.

A report about Hunter Biden’s activities, released in September by one of Trump’s most steadfast congressional allies, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), indicated that Hunter Biden and Jim Biden ultimately undertook business dealings with CEFC, but Bobulinski said they did so without him. Those dealings took place after the Joe Biden had left public office.

Ye Jianming, the founder and former chairman of CEFC, was taken into custody by Chinese authorities in 2018 after one of his top aides was convicted in a U.S. federal court of scheming to bribe officials in Chad and Uganda for oil contracts.

According to the GOP-led report, a subsidiary of Ye’s company wired $5 million to the bank account of a U.S. company called Hudson West III, which over the next 13 months sent $4.79 million to Hunter Biden’s firm. Over the same period, according to the report, Hunter Biden’s firm wired some $1.4 million to an entity associated with his uncle.

The report said Hunter Biden was also paid $1 million in early 2018 to represent Ye’s aide while the aide was facing federal bribery charges in the United States.

A person familiar with Hunter Biden’s business activities said last month that after the vice president left office, his son entered into a joint venture named Hudson West to pursue energy deals in the United States with investment from CEFC.

“The venture was capitalized with approximately $5 million that was used for significant pursuit costs associated with real-estate-development deals, the most significant of which was the Monkey Island project in Louisiana,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss Hunter Biden’s private business dealings. Those deals do not appear to have proceeded.

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 Monkey Island, La. 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 Trump family’s overseas business entanglements have also been the subject of conflict of interest allegations. Trump did not divest from his firm upon taking office, instead placing his holdings, which include foreign assets, in a trust controlled by his sons and a company executive.

After entering the White House, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, received approval for a slew of trademarks from Chinese authorities that she had applied for before joining the administration. The family of her husband, Jared Kushner, has continued to engage in foreign business transactions while he serves in the White House and works on foreign policy.

Biden has pledged that if elected, his family will have no involvement in overseas business dealings.

Philip Rucker, Rosalind S. Helderman and Julie Tate contributed to this report.