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Lobbying shop says DOJ probe into its work for Burisma has been closed

There was no finding of wrongdoing, said an attorney for Blue Star Strategies, whose work became a flashpoint in the debate over Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board

The Department of Justice building in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

A Justice Department probe into a Washington lobbying firm’s work for Burisma Holdings has been closed with no finding of wrongdoing, according to an attorney for the CEO of the firm, Blue Star Strategies.

The firm’s work for Burisma became a flashpoint in the debate over Hunter Biden’s role on the board of the Ukrainian oil and natural gas company, which has faced allegations of corruption domestically as well as in Britain and the United States.

The conclusion of the probe, which has not been previously reported, involved the firm submitting a new filing with the Justice Department detailing its lobbying activities on behalf of Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, in 2015 and 2016. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Blue Star Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs consultancy that touts its work for major corporations and foreign governments, took Burisma as a client in November 2015, according to testimony provided in 2020 by the firm’s CEO, Karen Tramontano, to Senate investigators.

Tramontano has maintained that the firm did not coordinate its activities with the younger son of then-Vice President Biden, who was on Burisma’s board at the time. Blue Star’s service to Burisma involved a "range of government, public affairs, and legal services,” she told Senate Republicans in response to a December 2019 letter, which included “discussions with appropriate government and non-governmental organizations regarding Ukraine’s energy security needs.”

At the time, Blue Star Strategies did not disclose its work for Burisma as part of filings required of “certain agents of foreign principals” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Tramontano’s attorney, Peter J. Kadzik, said the firm “fully cooperated” with the DOJ probe, the existence of which was reported last year by Politico, which said one focus of the federal investigation was whether the lobbying shop had failed to comply with disclosure requirements.

“There was no finding of any wrongdoing," Kadzik added in a statement to The Washington Post, sent in response to a query about the new filing. "To respond to the DOJ request, Blue Star Strategies submitted an administrative filing to explain the purpose of meetings that were held.” Kadzik said the decision to close the investigation was communicated to him directly.

The new filing, stamped May 12 and made “pursuant to guidance from DOJ personnel," involves the firm “adding retroactively a foreign principal for a specific and limited time in 2016." The foreign principal was Zlochevsky, the Burisma owner and former ecology and natural resources minister under Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who was forced into exile in 2014.

An exhibit submitted with the filing states that Blue Star Strategies “was asked in 2016 to help schedule meetings with U.S. Government officials so counsel for Mr. Zlochevsky could present an explanation of certain adverse proceedings in the U.K. and Ukraine involving Mr. Zlochevsky.”

The firm scheduled two such meetings, the exhibit continues, and a firm representative accompanied Zlochevsky’s counsel to the meetings. The firm received a monthly retainer of $30,000 in March and April of 2016, according to the filing, “a small portion of which was allocated to scheduling a meeting for Mr. Zlochevsky’s attorney.”

Blue Star Strategies was swept up in the partisan row over Burisma when allies of President Donald Trump sought dirt on his likely 2020 presidential campaign opponent by looking in Ukraine, which was among the foreign locales where Hunter Biden had done business. Senate Republicans requested information from Tramontano in December 2019, and she sat for an interview in August 2020 with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees.

As part of their call in 2019 for the State Department to release documents on Burisma’s dealings in Washington, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, cited a State Department email suggesting that Tramontano made note of “two high-profile U.S. citizens (including Hunter Biden as a board member) affiliated with the company” when requesting a meeting with a U.S. official.

Tramontano told Senate investigators she had not used Hunter Biden’s name to secure meetings with U.S. officials. She also said she was not intending to influence U.S. policy when engaging with those officials and that none of her meetings resulted in policy changes toward Ukraine. A spokeswoman for Tramontano declined to offer additional comment beyond the attorney’s statement.

Devlin Barrett and Aaron Schaffer contributed to this report.

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