smoke and mirrors
President Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and members of Trump's Cabinet are pretty open about wanting a scandal involving Trump personally pressuring — possibly extorting — Ukraine's president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner to challenge him in next year's presidential race, to be a story about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and alleged "corruption." Reporters have been digging around for months, and there just doesn't seem to be much there.
The allegation from Trump and Giuliani is that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a state prosecutor to quash an investigation into a Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky, whose gas company Burisma hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board of directors in 2014. Some of that is true — Joe Biden has openly said he successfully pressured Ukraine in 2016 to fire the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, or lose $1 billion in U.S. grant money.
But the first problem for Trump's accusation, The Wall Street Journal reports, is that "Shokin had dragged his feet into those [Zlochevsky] investigations, Western diplomats said, and effectively squashed one in London by failing to cooperate with U.K. authorities." In fact, Shokin was widely viewed as corrupt and ineffective. "The whole G-7, the IMF, the EBRD, everybody was united that Shokin must go, and the spokesman for this was Joe Biden," says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Zlochevsky's allies were "relieved" by Shokin's dismissal, The New York Times reports, because while "Shokin was not aggressively pursuing investigations into Mr. Zlochevsky or Burisma," he "was using the threat of prosecution to try to solicit bribes from Mr. Zlochevsky and his team." Zlochevsky has never been convicted of any wrongdoing, despite "a push by Obama administration officials for the United States to support criminal investigations by Ukrainian and British authorities, and possibly for the United States to start its own investigation, into the energy company, Burisma," and Zlochevsky, the Times adds. Biden never did anything to deter those efforts, his former colleagues say.
Hunter Biden, who has never been accused of wrongdoing in Ukraine, "is no longer on the Burisma payroll," The Washington Post notes. "In the Trump era, a different cast of characters is winning contracts in Ukraine. One of the players? Giuliani," who has "found ready clients in Ukraine, where people think that U.S. political wisdom can get results."