If you’re looking for dirt on a political opponent, and you’re willing to go outside the U.S. to find it, one of the best places to look is Ukraine. It should be no surprise that Ukraine played a role in the Robert Mueller investigation, that Joe Biden’s son Hunter found an extremely lucrative position in the country, and that Trump asked the sitting president to help investigate potential Biden corruption there. Tragically, however, this outsourcing of U.S. politics is making American politics look more and more like the hyper-partisan politics of Ukraine.
Ukrainian politics follows a cycle that is becoming tragically familiar in American politics.
Ukraine is infamous for its corruption. According to the World Economic Forum, it ranks 143 (out of 148 countries) for property rights, 130 for “irregular payments and bribes,” and 133 for “favoritism in decisions of government officials.” It should come as no surprise that the opposition party accuses the party in power of corruption, and that governments use corruption probes in a political manner.
Ukraine has long aspired to join the European Union, but former President Viktor Yanukovych, long suspected of being the puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin, delayed the entry. In 2014, the Parliament claimed to have unanimously voted to expel Yanukovych, and Yanukovych went to Russia for help. Russia responded by invading Ukraine, beginning a long war.
Petro Poroshenko became president in what many consider the 2014 revolution, and he pledged to fight corruption. Yet the current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, ran on an anti-corruption ticket and beat Poroshenko in a landslide earlier this year. Poroshenko claimed a Zelensky victory would benefit Russia. Sound familiar?
Democrats prefer the pro-EU government of Poroshenko, while Trump likely sees himself in Zelensky. Hilariously, the current president of Ukraine is an actor who played the role of the president of Ukraine in a 2015 television series.
Enter the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In that call, Trump asked Zelensky to help Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, investigate potential corruption regarding Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
As documented in an important timeline by National Review‘s Jim Geraghty, Hunter Biden has long cashed in on his father’s political prominence. Hunter Biden, a lawyer and lobbyist, did not lobby his father in the U.S. Senate, but in 2008 The Washington Post reported that then-Sen. Barack Obama “sought more than $3.4 million in congressional earmarks for clients of the lobbyist son of his Democratic running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, records show. Obama succeeded in getting $192,000 for one of the clients, St. Xavier University in suburban Chicago.”
Hunter Biden would make hundreds of millions in China, Ukraine, and elsewhere while his father served as vice president. While Joe Biden has claimed he never discussed such business with his son, a now-infamous photo of Joe Biden, Hunter, and Hunter’s business associate Devon Archer seems to belie that claim.
While Joe Biden served as the point person to Ukraine, Hunter Biden joined the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, securing a reported $50,000 per month. Alan Apter, then chairman of Burisma, felt the need to insist, “This is totally based on merit.” Biden had no experience in the gas industry or the energy sector, but he did have American connections.
Hunter Biden joined Burisma while the company’s founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, was under investigation for fraud. The investigation was dropped after Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, resigned — after Biden pressured Poroshenko to fire him.
While Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky did not include an explicit quid pro quo — asking Zelensky to investigate Biden or risk losing U.S. aid in the war against Russia — Joe Biden did use an explicit quid pro quo to get Shokin fired. In fact, the former vice president bragged about threatening to pull $1 billion in aid if the prosecutor was not fired.
Biden’s campaign has denied any corruption in the demand for Shokin’s ouster, insisting that the prosecutor general had not fought hard enough against corruption. In fact, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg excoriated the press for attacking Trump’s corruption claims as outright lies or a “conspiracy theory.”
When Giuliani interviewed Shokin in January 2019, the former prosecutor said his “investigations stopped out of fear of the United States.” According to Fox News, the note claimed Shokin was told Biden had held up U.S. aid to Ukraine over the investigation into Burisma.
Yet Vitaliy Kasko, a former Shokin deputy before resigning over corruption in February 2016, told Bloomberg that the Burisma investigation had been dormant under Shokin. “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,” Kasko told Bloomberg. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
Corruption is indeed endemic in Ukraine, but it also seems an effective political tool to discount an opponent’s claims.
Biden may not have pushed for Shokin’s ouster in order to protect the company that hired his son, but the investigation into Burisma was no secret, and Burisma hired American lawyers to get the investigation closed after Shokin’s firing. The situation is suspicious, and investigation is arguably warranted.
So how have Democrats applied a Ukrainian political strategy in their relentless efforts against Trump?
From the night of Trump’s election, Democrats have sought to undermine him. CNN’s Van Jones denounced the election victory as a “whitelash” against a black president. Some Democrats urged the Electoral College to block his victory. Nearly 70 Democratic lawmakers boycotted his inauguration, and many of them refused to attend his first State of the Union address. In April 2017, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) introduced a bill attempting to invoke the 25th Amendment and have Trump removed from office as unfit.
In one way or another, Democrats have been trying to impeach Trump for years. The narrative about Trump-Russia collusion seems to have hit a dead end, so they’re making hay about the July 25 call with Zelensky.
How dare Trump ask a foreign official to help investigate corruption that may be linked to his political opponent! Democrats would never dream of such a thing. Or would they? In May 2018, Democratic senators sent a letter to Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, asking him to reopen investigations into Trump related to the Robert Mueller probe.
Ukrainian officials have also tried to present evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of American Democrats and their allies in Ukraine, specifically involving foreign meddling against Trump and for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Naturally, this comes from officials in Zelensky’s administration, accusing former officials in Poroshenko’s administration of working to further American Democrats’ untoward schemes.
America is not Ukraine. The U.S. has far stronger property rights and a far better-established rule of law. But Democrats and Republicans are squabbling about the other side’s corruption just like political parties in Ukraine.
The Democrats’ impeachment effort seems incredibly orchestrated. It began with a whistleblower complaint that seems to have involved Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The whistleblower notified Schiff of the complaint beforehand, and some have speculated that Schiff may have helped write the complaint.
Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign has tried to control the narrative, asking the media to blacklist Giuliani.
This sleazy impeachment effort is beginning to look very … Ukrainian.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.