Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin pointed out Wednesday in the question-and-answer session in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate that the Washington Post had written a lengthy article about former Vice President Joe Biden’s conflict of interest in Ukraine on July 22, 2019 — three days before Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he raised the issue.
Democrats have claimed that the president only became interested in corruption in Ukraine when Biden became a political threat, leading Trump in early polls of the 2020 presidential race. They reiterated that claim on Wednesday, after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked the White House whether Trump had ever asked Ukraine about corruption regarding Biden before that call.
It was a question that noted a gap in the House’s factual record — one that Democrats themselves had missed, likely because they were trying to argue the more ambitious (though false) claim that Trump never cared about corruption before that point. Collins and Murkowski accepted that Trump had spoken about corruption with Ukraine before, but asked whether Biden had ever come up prior to the July 25th Ukraine call.
The White House answered it did not know, because the answer was not in the record. But it offered two other explanations. One was that Trump only became aware of the issue because his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told him about Biden’s conflict of interest in Ukraine in the course of his work since late 2018 in Ukraine preparing a defense for the president against the impending report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In addition, Trump could have become aware of the problems with Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — who held a board seat with Ukrainian gas company Burisma — because the media finally covered the story. On July 22, three days before the Ukraine call, the Washington Post published an article: “As vice president, Biden said Ukraine should increase gas production. Then his son got a job with a Ukrainian gas company.”
The lengthy profile of Hunter Biden, written by four reporters, including one based in Ukraine, reported:
From the moment Hunter Biden took the job in 2014, Republicans have said it presented a conflict of interest for the Bidens. Joe Biden, then the vice president, was the point person on Ukraine policy in President Barack Obama’s administration. Biden offered U.S. aid to Ukraine to increase gas production, which could benefit the Ukrainian energy industry.
Just a few weeks after his father’s visit to Ukraine, Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings. His friend and business partner, Devon Archer, also joined the board, saying the company had the potential to be another ExxonMobil. Archer did not respond to requests for comment.
As prosecutor general, Shokin’s office opened one case involving the gas company but only under pressure from the Ukrainian parliament.
In an email interview with The Post, Shokin said he believes his ouster was because of his interest in the company.
“Are you asking me about the motives of Joseph Biden?” Shokin wrote. “I will answer that the activities of Burisma, the involvement of his son, Hunter Biden, and the [prosecutor general’s office] investigators on his tail, are the only, I emphasize, the only motives for organizing my resignation.”
Read the full article here.
Just three days later, Trump told Zelensky, according to the call transcript, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that.” They certainly did; those “people” included a full team of investigative journalists at the Washington Post.
The Washington Post is considered the newspaper of record in the nation’s capital, and the article would certainly have been circulated within the White House.
Democrats — and the journalists supporting their efforts — face the difficult task of arguing that the media’s own (belated) reporting on Hunter Biden in 2019 had no influence whatsoever on President Trump’s long-standing interest in fighting corruption in Ukraine.