When the New York Post released emails last fall from what it claimed was Hunter Biden’s laptop, The Fact Checker produced an explainer that turned out to be one of the most read articles in our 13-year history. A key question we examined was whether Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, arranged for a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm to meet with the then-vice president when he was in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine. The date in question: April 16, 2015.
A campaign spokesman for Joe Biden had said a review of Biden’s schedule for that day found no record of any such meeting. Officials who worked for him in 2015 also told The Fact Checker that no such meeting took place.
Recently, a reader directed our attention to a May 26 New York Post report, featuring more emails, that was headlined: “Hunter Biden brought VP Joe to dinner with shady business partners.” The article suggested Joe Biden met with the Burisma executive, Vadym Pozharskyi, at a dinner that was held in the private “garden room” at Cafe Milano in Washington.
The reader, in a phone message, said it was time to update our report because new details had emerged from the laptop about the vice president’s movements that day. As the New York Post put it, “The dinner raises questions about how much Joe Biden, who has claimed ignorance of his son’s activities, knew about Hunter’s dealings with foreign businesses and government officials.”
But when we looked into it, there was less to the story than one might imagine.
Hunter Biden at the time was chairman of World Food Program USA, a fundraising arm of the U.N. humanitarian organization. Rick Leach, at the time the president and chief executive of WFP USA, said in a telephone interview that Joe Biden only dropped by briefly to meet with one of the guests, Alex Karloutsos, known as Father Alex. Until his recent retirement, Karloutsos was one of the most powerful figures in the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States.
A few hours earlier, Joe Biden had made remarks at the White House Greek Independence Day Reception, according to his official schedule. He and Karloutsos are personal friends who have known each other for 40 years. Karloutsos’s wife, Xanthi, is on the board of the Beau Biden Foundation, which fights child abuse. (Beau Biden, who had an aggressive form of brain cancer, died a few weeks after this dinner.)
Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic, also has a long history of working with the Greek Orthodox Church. In 2015, the church awarded him the Patriarch Athenagoras Humanitarian Award. “This may be the greatest honor I’ve ever received in my public life,” he declared.
Leach recalled that the dinner involved about 10 to 12 people in a private room but that Joe Biden “didn’t even sit down. He was not part of the dinner or part of the dinner discussion.” Instead, he just spoke to Karloutsos.
Karloutsos, in an email, confirmed Leach’s account. “That is true. It was very kind of the then VP to do so.”
Leach described Hunter Biden as an active board chairman of WFP USA. He said the two of them had a “tag-team presentation” as they made a pitch at various events for food assistance. One Hunter Biden email before the dinner remarked that “the reason for the dinner is ostensibly to discuss food security,” the New York Post said. But Leach said that was indeed the focus of the discussion. At the dinner, “there was no discussion of politics or business about anything or anywhere,” he said.
Leach said he found the introduction to Karloutsos to be helpful and he later followed up with a meeting in New York. At the time, Greece was flooded with refugees from Syria and Leach was eager to get the church involved. The New York Post article quotes an email from Leach to Hunter Biden later that night: “What a fantastic and productive evening — thank you!”
One mystery is why the drop-by was not listed on Joe Biden’s schedule. Not everything is always listed on a presidential or vice-presidential schedule. But the New York Post quotes from an email from Hunter Biden to Karloutsos’s son, Michael, on March 26: “Dad will be there but keep that between us for now.”
A White House individual with knowledge of Joe Biden’s schedules said the decision to see Father Alex was made late that day, after the schedule was completed. It’s unclear when the vice president learned Father Alex would be in town, but the decision was made that evening, the person added.
A tentative guest list for the event, as recounted in the New York Post from one of Hunter Biden’s emails three weeks before the dinner, did not include Pozharskyi. So it’s still unclear how the vice president could have met him, unless he was a last-minute addition. (Alex Karloutsos also is not included on that early list.) The Biden campaign, after a comprehensive review, had said a meeting never took place between Joe Biden and Pozharskyi. (Update, June 8: In a tweet condemning this article, the author of the New York Post story asserts that a “Vadym” on the tentative guest list refers to Pozharskyi, though no last name is listed.)
The tentative guest list does include “3 seats for our KZ [Kazakhstan] friends.” An unverified, undated and fuzzy photo emerged in November on a Kazakh website showing Joe Biden in a meet-and-greet photo with Hunter Biden, flanked by Kenes Rakishev, a Kazakh businessman, and Karim Massimov, a former prime minister of Kazakhstan. The Daily Mail reported in October that Hunter Biden had business dealings with Rakishev between 2012 and 2014.
Whether the photo, if genuine, was taken at the dinner is unclear.
“I recall that [Vice President Biden] engaged directly with Father Alex, who appeared to be a personal friend,” Leach said. “I do not recall any photos being taken or whether he spoke directly with anyone else at the table.”
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