Explained: What a report by Republicans says on Hunter Biden and his Ukraine role

Donald Trump has long accused the Bidens of wrongdoing in Ukraine, and was impeached last year over a controversial phone call he had with that country’s president, in which he seemed to request an inquiry against the Bidens.

With six weeks to go for the November 3 US presidential election, the Republican party has mounted a new attack on Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden. On Wednesday, two Republican-led committees of the US Senate released a report saying Hunter Biden “cashed in” on his father’s position by joining the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas firm, in 2014.

The report, however, did not find any evidence of corruption by the Bidens, and acknowledged that it was “not clear” as to what extent Hunter Biden’s presence on Burisma’s board affected US policy towards Ukraine.

President Donald Trump has long accused the Bidens of wrongdoing in Ukraine, and was impeached last year over a controversial phone call he had with Ukraine’s president, in which he seemed to request Kyiv to open an inquiry into the Bidens.

Trump tweeted on Thursday, “Russian Billionaire wired Hunter Biden 3 1/2 Million Dollars. This on top of all of the other money he received while Joe was V.P. Crooked as can be, but Fake Mainstream Media wants it to just go away!”

The Bidens and Ukraine

The Bidens’ connection with Ukraine began in April 2014, when Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas firm owned by the oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky was a former minister in the government of Viktor Yanukovych, a leader with close links to Russia who had just been removed as President by Ukraine’s Parliament.

In February 2015, a man called Viktor Shokin became the prosecutor general of Ukraine, and took charge of an ongoing investigation of money laundering, tax evasion, and corruption against Zlochevsky and Burisma. The US and the International Monetary Fund accused Shokin of going slow on corruption.

In March 2016, Vice President Biden, who was involved in Ukraine policy under President Obama, went to Kyiv, and threatened President Petro Poroshenko that he would hold back a scheduled $1 billion US loan if he did not fire Shokin. In 2018, Biden boasted that as a result of his threat, the “son of a bitch… got fired”.

Trump’s impeachment

Trump and the Republicans, however, alleged that the actual reason the Vice President sought to remove Shokin was to save Burisma’s owner from being investigated, and to protect Hunter Biden.

From the spring of 2019, according to multiple US media reports, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani started to pressure the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on Biden from the Burisma episode.

Then in July, Trump had a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he seemed to pressure the latter into opening a corruption investigation in his country against the Bidens, and was accused of withholding US aid to Ukraine, worth millions, as leverage.

The controversy led to Trump being impeached in December last year by the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives. The President, however, survived removal from office after the Republican-majority Senate voted not to convict him.

Also in Explained | How US Supreme Court judges are picked, and the row over Justice Ginsburg’s seat

What the new report by Republican lawmakers says

The report by Homeland Security and Finance Committees of the US Senate, titled “Hunter Biden, Burisma, and Corruption”, mainly concerns Hunter Biden, and makes a limited mention of the former Vice President.

It has called Hunter Biden’s role in Burisma “awkward” and “problematic”, but did not find evidence that the Obama administration’s Ukraine foreign was manipulated because of him.

“What the chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” the report said, but acknowledged, “The extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected US policy toward Ukraine is not clear.”

The report relied chiefly on concerns raised in 2015 and 2016 by George Kent, a State Department official, that Hunter Biden’s lucrative position at Burisma made it “very awkward for all US officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine,” as per a New York Times report.

However, it also quoted Kent saying that the US Embassy in Kyiv never made a decision “where we took the presence of a private citizen on the board into account.”

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Impact on the US election

President Trump, who is facing widespread criticism for his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has consistently lagged behind Joe Biden in polls for the November race.

The report by Republican legislators barely more than a month before the presidential vote is seen as an attempt to keep the party’s conservative base energised. On their part, the Democrats have criticised the report as a last minute attack on Trump’s election opponent, and Joe Biden’s campaign has said that it has been founded on “a long-disproven, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory”.

According to the BBC, the report is not expected to cause significant damage to the Democrats, given that Trump and US right-wing media have already made much more serious accusations against the Bidens during the year.

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