By Edwin Mora
The Obama administration dismissed warnings raised by top State Department official George Kent in 2015 that the Ukrainian company that was employing then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter at the time was corrupt, the Washington Post confirmed Thursday.
The Post’s report suggested the Obama administration allowed Hunter Biden to continue serving on Burisma Holdings’ board of directors although it knew the company was corrupt.
A career State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy told congressional investigators this week that he had raised concerns in early 2015 about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son serving on the board of a Ukrainian energy company but was turned away by a Biden staffer, according to three people familiar with the testimony.
George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified Tuesday that he worried that Hunter Biden’s position at the firm Burisma Holdings would complicate efforts by U.S. diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules surrounding the deposition.
Kent said he had concerns that Ukrainian officials would view Hunter Biden as a conduit for currying influence with his father, said the people. But when Kent raised the issue with Biden’s office, he was told the then-vice president didn’t have the “bandwidth” to deal with the issue involving his son as his other son, Beau, was battling cancer, said the people familiar with his testimony.
The Washington Post has previously reported that there had been discussions among Biden’s advisers about whether his son’s Ukraine work would be perceived as a conflict of interest, and that one former adviser had been concerned enough to mention it to Biden, though the conversation was brief.
Kent’s comments came during his closed-door deposition in the House Democrats’ impeachment probe on Tuesday.
When Kent raised his concerns about Burisma, the Obama administration had already cleared Hunter to serve on the company’s board of directors. Hunter joined Burisma’s board of directors in 2014. The former vice president was leading U.S. efforts to crack down on corruption at the time.
The State official explicitly warned the Obama administration that Burisma was “corrupt,” NBC News revealed near the end of its article on Kent’s testimony, noting:
During his nearly 10 hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company’s extensive corruption in Ukraine.
In the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that triggered the impeachment probe, Trump urged his counterpart to investigate corruption allegations against Biden and his son Hunter.
As vice president, Biden threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine to force the Eastern European country to fire its top prosecutor in 2016, who had investigated the owner of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, for possible corruption.
Hunter had been serving on the board of Burisma for up to $83,000 per month at the time despite having no background in energy, prompting allegations of corruption. He admitted to ABC News last weekend that his father’s political position helped him secure the lucrative appointment to Burisma’s board of directors.
A “whistleblower” allegation that during the July 25 call Trump attempted to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens by withholding aid triggered the impeachment probe. Trump and Ukraine have denied the allegations.
The Democrats’ impeachment probe is primarily seeking to determine whether Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in a bid to get dirt on White House hopeful Biden. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the leader of the probe, has said, however, that there does not need to be a quid pro quo to impeach Trump.