A State Department official who served in the U.S. embassy in Kiev told Congress that the Obama administration tried in 2016 to partner with the Ukrainian gas firm that employed Hunter Biden but the project was blocked over corruption concerns.
George Kent, the former charge d’affair at the Kiev embassy, said in testimony released Thursday that the State Department’s main foreign aid agency, known as USAID, planned to co-sponsor a clean energy project with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas firm that employed Hunter Biden as a board member.
At the time of the proposed project, Burisma was under investigation in Ukraine for alleged corruption. Those cases were settled in late 2016 and early 2017. Burisma contested allegations of corruption but paid a penalty for tax issues.
Kent testified he personally intervened in mid-2016 to stop USAID’s joint project with Burisma because American officials believed the corruption allegations against the gas firm raised concern.
“There apparently was an effort for Burisma to help cosponsor, I guess, a contest that USAID was sponsoring related to clean energy. And when I heard about it I asked USAID to stop that sponsorship,” Kent told lawmakers.
When asked why he intervened, he answered: “”Because Burisma had a poor reputation in the business, and I didn’t think it was appropriate for the U.S. Government to be co-sponsoring something with a company that had a bad reputation.”
Kent’s testimony confirms earlier text messages I reported on in September. Those text messages show that Devon Archer — Hunter Biden’s business associate and fellow board member on Burisma — boasted to an American lawyer in December 2015 that the pair was seeking to do a project with USAID.
At the time of the text, the New York Times had just reported that Burisma was under investigation in Ukraine and that the probe and Hunter Biden’s role in the company was undercutting Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to root out corruption in Ukraine.
Archer’s text to the lawyer suggested he was working on a strategy to counter the “new wave of scrutiny” about Burisma caused by the Times’ story. He stated that he had just met at the State to discuss a new “USAID project the embassy is announcing with us” and that it was “perfect for us to move forward now with momentum.”
Kent’s stoppage of the USAID project adds to a growing body of evidence that Burisma and its corruption issues were causing heartburn inside the State Department during the end of Joe Biden’s tenure as Vice President.
Another State official has reportedly testified he tried to warn Biden’s office that the Burisma matter posed a conflict of interest but was turned away by the vice president’s aides.
And internal State memos I obtained this week under FOIA show Hunter Biden and Archer had multiple contacts with Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken in 2015-16, and that Burisma’s own American legal team was lobbying State to help eliminate the corruption allegations against it in Ukraine.
Hunter Biden’s name was specifically invoked as a reason why State officials should assist, the memos show. A month after Burisma’s contact with State, Joe Biden leveraged the threat of withholding U.S. foreign aid to force Ukraine to fire its chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who at the time was overseeing the Burisma probe.
Joe Biden says he forced the firing because he believed Shokin was ineffective, but Shokin says he was told he was fired because the American ice president was unhappy the prosecutor would not drop the Burisma probe.
Also on Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked the State Department to provide them all documents about Hunter Biden’s and Burisma’s contacts by end of this month.
It follows calls earlier in the week by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C,, that there is enough concern about the Burisma case to now warrant an official Senate investigation.
Kent’s newly released testimony also confirmed several other elements of my earlier reporting about Ukraine, including that the U.S. embassy exerted pressure on Ukrainian prosecutors not to pursue certain investigations.
Kent, now a deputy assistant secretary, disputed allegations that former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko made in a Hill.TV interview I conducted last March that former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch gave a formal list of names she did not want to see prosecuted by Ukrainian authorities.
Kent’s denial was identical to the one I published from State when I first aired the Lutsenko interview.
But he confirmed that the U.S. embassy did, in fact, on several occasions exert pressure on Lutsenko’s office about people and groups that the American government did not want to see pursued for investigation or prosecution or harassment.
For instance, Kent acknowledged signing an April 2016 letter that asked the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office to stand down an investigation of several nonprofits that had received U.S. aid, including the AntiCorruption Action Centre of Ukraine, or AnTac.
Kent also confirmed my reporting that AnTac was jointly funded by the State Department and one of liberal megadonor George Soros’ foundations.
Kent also acknowledged the embassy pressured Ukrainian prosecutors about backing off investigations into a top law enforcement official named Artem Sytnyk and a former journalist named Vitali Shabunin.
“As a matter of conversation that U.S officials had with Ukrainian officials in sharing our concern about the direction of governance and the approach, harassment of civil society activists, including Mr. Shabunin, was one of the issues we raised,” Kent testified.
As for Sytnyk, the head of the NABU anticorruption police, Kent stated: “We warned both Lutsenko and others that efforts to destroy NABU as an organization, including opening up investigations of Sytnyk, threatened to unravel a key component of our anti-corruption cooperation.”
AnTac, Shabunin and Sytnyk were all names that Lutsenko told me had been the subject of U.S. pressure on his office.
So after weeks of Democrats and their media allies suggesting it was a “conspiracy theory” that the U.S. embassy had pressured Ukrainian authorities not to pursue certain investigations, Kent confirmed it.
Of course I knew it was true all along because before I ever aired Lutsenko’s interview, I interviewed a senior State official who confirmed the embassy had engaged in such pressure. Now it’s time for the rest of the media to catch up.