The reports are a mélange of innuendo, slanted language, Trumpian talking points and dramatic music, without any real pretense. It’s the kind of thing that would completely look at home if it were on low-budget state TV. A sampling from the closing segment of its investigation this week:
- “Democrat impeachment led by failed and frustrated screenwriter turned Hollywood congressman Adam Schiff has turned into full-blown and public investigation of an international scandal involving not Donald J. Trump, but the Bidens, the Democratic Party and our U.S. State Department.”
- “an impeachment hoax that amounts to a coup”
- “Some will call it treason.”
- The Russia investigation moved to “target innocent people to indulge the FBI’s personal hatred for President Trump” — as it shows images of George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn, both of whom pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.
- A reference to the “real whistleblowers — whistleblowers not huddling in Adam Schiff’s basement” (there is no evidence the Ukraine whistleblower worked with Schiff personally)
- Calling Hunter Biden the “drug addict son” of Joe Biden
For more on the rather remarkable presentation of this investigation, click on the video at the top.
It’s one thing to douse everything in scare quotes; it’s another to produce valuable information. OANN traveled to Ukraine to speak with several officials who have been working with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, for months. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote last week, it’s a motley crew that includes former Ukrainian prosecutors general who were accused of being soft on corruption or corrupt themselves, and a former member of a pro-Russian political party who has been called a “professional disinformer."
So what did they find after all these months of probing? Apparently not a ton.
The central document is actually not from Ukraine but from Latvia. It’s a February 2016 letter allegedly from an anti-money laundering section of the Latvian prosecutor’s office, and it suggests the payments from Burisma Holdings to Hunter Biden might have amounted to money laundering.
Witness Viktor Shokin:— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) December 15, 2019
Holds doc’s proving money laundering by Burisma & Biden’s.
Fired due to VP Biden’s threat not to release $1B in vital US aid.
Shokin’s med records show he was poisoned, died twice, and was revived.
Lots of heads will roll in Ukraine if this opens up. pic.twitter.com/1W1OgkumXA
Here’s how Giuliani explains it: “All of a sudden, [Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Viktor] Shokin gets this communique from Latvia that shows a $16 million laundering transaction — classic laundering transaction. It goes from Ukraine to Latvia. It’s disguised as a loan to another company — Wirelogic, I believe. It then goes to Cyprus, gets disguised as another loan — this is called Digitex. Then it’s disbursed as payment of board fees. Now, you don’t make two loans to pay board fees unless you’re laundering the money. Three million dollars gets to Hunter Biden that way. That is a straight-out violation of a money laundering statute.”
OANN doesn’t appear to have posted the document online, but it does appear on-screen. Here’s what I was able to transcribe from the images:
Office for Prevention of Laundering of Proceeds Derived from Criminal Activity (further in text — the Latvian FIU) is currently investigating suspicious activity of Burisma Holding Limited ...According to publicly available information Burisma Holding Limited and its director Hunter Biden are involved in corruption affair. The following transactions made to Burisma Holding Limited account in AS PrivatBank are known to the Latvian FIU:From the July of 2012 till the July of 2014 total of 14,556,982.00 USD and 366,015.00 EUR were received from Wirelogic Technology AS ... as payments for loan agreements.From the July of 2015 till the December of 2015 total of 1,964,375.00 USD were received from Digitex Organization LLP … as payments for loan agreements.The funds were partially transferred from Burisma Holding Limited account to Devon Archer, Hunter Biden, Alan Apter and Aleksander Kwasniewski.
The document appears to be a translated version of one posted last month by Michael Coudrey. (The Post has reached out to the Latvian government to authenticate the document but has not heard back.)
So what does it show? It essentially shows that Burisma paid four people through these transfers. Who are these people? They are all people who were employed by Burisma at the time. Archer and Hunter Biden served on its board, while Apter joined as chairman around the same time. Hunter Biden said he was convinced to join the board by the fourth person, Kwasniewski, who is a former president of Poland.
Somebody in Latvia apparently regarded these money transfers as suspicious, but there isn’t much to go on here. And even if the money was laundered, does it implicate Hunter Biden in the laundering? (There have long been legitimate questions about potential corruption at Burisma.) The document for some reason names four people as receiving the funds but mentions Hunter Biden as being involved only “in corruption affair.” Why is that? You would think the document might explain, but OANN doesn’t appear to have probed that.
Money laundering experts said there doesn’t seem to be much there there.
“By itself, it does not look like money laundering,” said Moyara Ruehsen, a money laundering expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “For there to be a money laundering crime, there must be a predicate offense. . . . Just moving legitimately earned funds from one shell company to another is not money laundering. Keep in mind that 95 percent of shell companies are legitimate and used for legitimate tax minimization strategies and other legitimate accounting strategies.”
She added: “As for Hunter Biden, if he earned legitimate consulting fees and reported these fees to the IRS, then he is not guilty of anything. If Burisma Holding committed tax evasion by underreporting income or committed money laundering by moving funds that were actual bribe payments, then they might be guilty of bribery and tax evasion and money laundering. But if Hunter Biden didn’t knowingly pay or collect any bribes or knowingly underreport his income, then he isn’t guilty of anything.”
This evidence, like basically all that has come before it, is remarkably thin and relies on strained inferences. One of Giuliani’s sources, Andriy Derkach, has likewise made a point of documenting how much money Burisma paid Hunter Biden without explaining exactly why he’s alleging that would be illegal.
We know, though, that Hunter Biden was hired for a lucrative job he probably wouldn’t have gotten if his dad hadn’t been vice president of the United States. The allegation President Trump was pushing Ukraine to investigate isn’t that; it was that the elder Biden effectively got Shokin fired because Shokin was investigating Burisma and threatening the younger Biden’s payday. This allegation has always ignored the fact that U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said the Burisma investigation had long been dormant, that Shokin was removed because he wasn’t tough enough on corruption, and that many Western leaders — not just Biden — wanted Shokin out.
Shokin has disputed this and has claimed rather dubiously that his investigation of Burisma was, in fact, the only reason he was removed as prosecutor (even as there were clearly other reasons Western leaders opposed him). So we have the word of some Ukrainian officials of questionable repute, girded by a rather thin amount of documentary evidence.
But at least they have a sympathetic news outlet to broadcast these dots for people who would very much like to connect them.
Correction: This article previously referred to Coudrey as a “right-wing journalist.” He is CEO of YukoSocial, a social media firm, and describes his politics as moderate.