While President Trump may be breaking new ground in political corruption, his lawyer has reached a new peak in bad faith with his smears of Joe Biden.
Lies, mischaracterizations, fibs — whatever word you have doesn’t fully capture what Giuliani is selling. It’s less a specific falsehood than an all-encompassing false narrative that’s ready-made for news organizations to pick up, more like a redux of the Benghazi scandal than a single lie.
The media’s approach to it thus far illustrates the point: outlets covering the burgeoning scandal hasten to state that there is no evidence of Biden committing any wrongdoing in Ukraine. A true statement, but one that misses the point.
There is overwhelming evidence that Giuliani and Trump are running a smear operation, abetted in part by the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. It shouldn’t be hard to explain, and yet we struggle to capture it.
Giuliani weaves different misrepresentations and untruths together to tell a story about Biden abusing his office to quash an investigation into his son.
In fact, there was no investigation to quash. Biden was arguably the most influential in a cacophony of western voices calling for the prosecutor’s resignation as part of the West’s bid to help the former Soviet republic root out corruption.
All this comes after it emerged that Giuliani — and Trump — have pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into the matter.
From the starting point of Hunter Biden’s seat on the board of a scandal-ridden Ukrainian gas company, Giuliani has made up a narrative of abuse of power tailored to support allegations of corruption against the Democratic frontrunner, while demanding that Kyiv supply likely fabricated evidence to support his narrative.
Everyone wanted the prosecutor out
Reforming Ukraine’s graft-ridden law enforcement institutions was at the top of the country’s western backers’ agenda in the years following the 2014 EuroMaidan revolution. Then-chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin was widely seen as refusing to investigate any cases of high-level corruption and came to represent one of the biggest obstacles towards establishing rule of law.
Biden, at one point, threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee until Shokin was removed. “Son of a bitch, he got fired,” Biden later said, recounting the response.
Giuliani spins that situation into a personal vendetta of Biden’s to protect his son.
The crux of Giuliani’s allegation against Biden is as follows: he leaned on Shokin in a bid to prevent him from conducting an investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement in a Ukrainian gas firm called Burisma.
The accusation is essentially abuse of power, that Biden — as President Obama’s point man on the Ukraine crisis – used his position to protect his son from a criminal investigation.
In some ways, it’s a mirror image of what’s under investigation by the House Intelligence Committee: U.S. foreign policy being turned into a personal political tool.
But Giuliani’s allegation completely misstates the environment around Shokin, and winds up wittingly or unwittingly playing as PR for the former prosecutor.
Burisma was dirty. But Shokin wasn’t investigating.
Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, was at the center of a massive grand corruption scandal, after owner Mykola Zlochevsky fled Ukraine following the country’s February 2014 revolution. Zlochevsky, who before the revolution was minister of natural resources, had awarded Burisma lucrative gas drilling licenses, leading to allegations that he was embezzling state resources on a massive scale.
It’s not known how much members of Viktor Yanukovych’s former government stole before they were overthrown, but estimates range as high as $40 billion. Zlochevsky’s alleged theft was a drop in the ocean, but it struck many as the kind of low-hanging fruit that a new government could go after in its bid to prosecute high-level corruption.
The British government froze $23 million in Zlochevsky’s accounts in March 2014 — a potential symbolic victory if it could be repatriated back to Ukraine.
But within a year, the case fell apart, largely because Shokin’s office refused to reply to British legal requests demanding evidence supporting corruption allegations.
The brazenness of the self-dealing in this case — awarding gas permits to yourself — and the involvement of the U.K. made the case a high-profile failure of Shokin’s tenure, and contributed to calls for his removal.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma in April 2014.
Giuliani and others — including the American journalist John Solomon— have relied on Shokin to allege that Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma was the focus of a criminal investigation by his office. But a close look at the facts and at Shokin’s own activities at the time paints a drastically different picture.
The Burisma investigation was dead when Biden supposedly killed it.
Shokin had shelved the Burisma investigation in 2015, one year before Biden is accused of stepping in to quash it.
Former members of Shokin’s office from that time have confirmed that the Burisma case was halted more than a year before Biden called for Shokin’s resignation.
Giuliani — in part through the New York Times — has alleged that Biden fired Shokin in a bid to halt a criminal investigation that threatened his son.
“In the course of investigating that, I found out this incredible story about Joe Biden, that he bribed the president of the Ukraine in order to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in a head-spinning Thursday night interview. “That is an astounding scandal of major proportions which all of you have covered up for about five or six months.”
Giuliani has not offered any evidence to support the allegations.