By David DeAngelo
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
For this column, I was originally planning on looking at the 2017 Trump tax cuts, specifically how some members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation described and defended them over the past few years. I was planning on contrasting those statements with how the Congressional Research Service analyzed those tax cuts. I was planning on showing how the GOP descriptions of those cuts were wrong, wrong, wrong.
But then the news of Donald Trump’s phone calls to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hit the news and the idea of fact-checking a mere multi-billion dollar tax cut that skewed wealthy seemed rather quaint compared to a sitting President of the United States actively corroding the foundations of the republic for his own political gain.
Given the republic-shuddering nature of the Ukraine story, let’s take a look at how Trump’s deflecting attention away from it with an otherwise untrue smear regarding former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Recently, the New York Times reported that, before leaving for a trip to Texas and Ohio, Trump described one call this way: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
It might take you a few minutes to decode the Trump-speak, but the implication is clear: we don’t want them Biden boys to spread “their” corruption to Ukraine, now do we? This “corruption” to which Trump refers is the essential assertion upon which his entire argument rests.
Trump’s asserting that Joe Biden, as Vice-President, pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was reportedly investigating Hunter Biden, his son. The younger Biden was on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company.
Let’s get some important stuff out of the way: Hunter Biden probably should not have been on the board of that company. While no one has ever been able to show any illegality, it just looks bad.
For instance, in 2015 the New York Times reported that near the beginning of Biden’s time on the board, Burisma Holdings had been under investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. The Office froze millions of dollars of assets owned by Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky. By the way, he was then the Ukrainian ecology minister under Ukraine’s Russian-friendly former president Viktor F. Yanukovych. By the way, after the 2014 protests in Ukraine, Yanukovych, fled to Russia, where he is now living in exile – still wanted for treason back in Ukraine.
Just to fill in a few blanks on Russian corruption Trump never seems to mention.
After the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office refused to cooperate with the British, the frozen funds were released and were then, according to the Times, shuffled out of the country, off to Cyprus.
This caused a bit of an uproar with the Obama administration, which was looking to reduce corruption in Ukraine. Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the American Ambassador to Ukraine even publicly criticized the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office for not cooperating with the British investigation.
But with the Vice-President’s son was on the board of the company, it just looked bad as it undermined the Obama Administration’s attempts, see?
In 2015 a man named Viktor Shokin was appointed as new prosecutor general and he wasn’t any better at dealing with his country’s corruption.
Trump’s smear goes that VP Biden personally pressured Ukraine to oust Shokin in order to protect his son from a corruption investigation being undertaken by Viktor Shokin.
Too bad that’s just not what happened.
When Shokin was ousted in March 2016, the Times reported:
The United States and other Western nations had for months called for the ousting of Mr. Shokin, who was widely criticized for turning a blind eye to corrupt practices and for defending the interests of a venal and entrenched elite.
At that same time, Radio Free Europe reported:
Several hundred people rallied outside the Ukrainian parliament on March 28, calling for Shokin’s resignation.
The United States has repeatedly called for top-to-bottom reform of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which antigraft campaigners have said plays a key role in protecting vested interests and allowing corrupt practices to flourish.
And recently, The Week reported:
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.”
So VP Biden did not personally call for Shokin’s ouster. He was speaking as a representative of the United States of America and reflecting the criticisms of the G-7, the IMP and the EBRD (the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
As its central point is wrong, Trump’s smear is simply incorrect.
The fact that Trump and his enablers in the GOP keep repeating it is a sad state of affairs for a once respectable political party.