It’s appalling for President Trump to ask a foreign leader to investigate Joe Biden for alleged corruption.
Then again: What exactly was Biden’s son, Hunter, doing in that foreign country and why was he hired to do it? Those are fair questions, which the media would never stop asking if the son under scrutiny happened to be Donald Trump Jr. But the Biden campaign is pushing back hard, with the now familiar cry that asking merely amplifies Trump talking points. Sorry, but I disagree.
Of course, Trump would love to turn Hunter Biden into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. So, there’s reasonable fear of giving too much oxygen to wild accusations. But you don’t have to work for Fox News to see legitimate concerns over Hunter Biden’s business dealings. In fact, you can read all about them in presumably friendly media outposts like The New Yorker and the New York Times.
On the narrow question of whether Joe Biden used his position as vice president to push for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a Ukrainian energy company that was paying Hunter Biden lots of money — there’s no credible evidence of that, several media investigations have concluded. But, as the Times ever so delicately put it, “some State Department officials had expressed concern that Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine could complicate his father’s diplomacy there.”
That “but” is a problem for Biden, even if it’s just an appearance problem. In the context of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s a big gift to Senator Elizabeth Warren. Just last week, Biden’s Democratic rival, who is surging in polls, said if she’s elected president, she would champion a sweeping package to end government corruption as her first major piece of legislation. She specifically described Trump as “corruption in the flesh.” But the broad aim of her proposal targets Washington’s entrenched, bipartisan culture of lobbying and influence-peddling.
When Trump pushed the Ukrainian government for dirt on Biden, he demonstrated even more of his usual contempt for the rule of law. The revelation, disclosed through a whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has so far refused to make public, is leading more Democratic lawmakers to call for impeachment. Meanwhile, the whistle-blower scandal allows Trump to happily keep the focus on Biden’s son.
According to the Times, Hunter Biden was paid as much as $50,000 a month for his service on the board of directors of Bursima Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company. He has not been accused of any unlawful conduct. But, according to a “sorting out” of the accusations by Times reporter Kenneth P. Vogel, “he has been criticized by government watchdog groups in the United States and Ukraine for what they characterize as the perception of a conflict of interest and trading on his family name.”
In a recent statement, Hunter Biden also said that he never discussed Burisma with his father. That is disputed by his own words in a lengthy piece in The New Yorker, which was published in July. Author Adam Entous writes, “As Hunter recalled, his father discussed Bursima with him just once: ‘Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘ do.’” According to The New Yorker, Biden dealt with his son’s activities “by largely ignoring them.” As Robert Weissman, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen, told Entous, “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Hunter’s foreign employers and partners were seeking to leverage Hunter’s relationship with Joe, either by seeking improper influence or to project access to him.”
On MSNBC, Vogel said the Ukraine story “is a significant liability for Joe Biden. Like, there is a story here.” For that, he got the usual shoot-the-messenger treatment on social media.
But on the basis of reporting by the Times and other media outlets, he’s right. There’s a story here that deserves fair and proportional coverage.
That’s different from Trump’s shameless efforts to use a foreign government to whip it into a Fox News alert.