Senate Republicans have released their controversial report on Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s former dealings with Ukraine in a politically-charged move to taint Biden’s campaign weeks out from Election Day.
The investigation, which was spearheaded by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) focuses on Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings—a key issue in last year’s impeachment of President Donald Trump. The probe was launched despite no evidence of any wrongdoing by Hunter Biden ever being established.
The report contains little that wasn’t already known. Its headline finding is that two Obama administration officials raised some concerns to the White House in 2015 about Hunter Biden serving on the board of Burisma, but the report does not support Trump’s baseless claim that Joe Biden tried to use his influence as Vice President to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to protect his son’s gas firm.
Senate Democrats tried earlier this week to prevent the report from being published, warning that the document would only serve to amplify Russian disinformation about Biden ahead of November’s election.
The Treasury department has sanctioned Andriy Derkach, an associate who has pushed similar theories with the help of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, because U.S. intelligence services believe he is an active Russian agent. It was reported on Tuesday that the CIA believes President Putin is probably directing the disinformation campaign against the Bidens personally.
The GOP investigation, launched after Biden became a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has been framed by Johnson as explicitly political—drawing condemnation even from Republican senators. Last week, Johnson said his report would reveal that Biden "is not somebody we should be electing president of the United States."
On Wednesday, following the publication, the Biden campaign immediately dismissed the report as politically-motivated nonsense.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates reportedly said: “As the coronavirus death toll climbs and Wisconsinites struggle with joblessness, Ron Johnson has wasted months diverting the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee away from any oversight of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic, a threat Sen. Johnson has dismissed by saying that ‘death is an unavoidable part of life.’”
The report trumpets one quote as its central finding: That a State Department official, George Kent, raised concerns in 2015 with unidentified officials at the White House about Biden’s son working with Burisma. Kent wrote in one email to unidentified colleagues of his: “The presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine.”
However, Kent said as much to congressional investigators during his testimony last year, when he said he was worried that Hunter Biden’s position could appear like a conflict of interest, and that he had raised that issue with the White House.
Kent, who was the acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine at the time, also said that the U.S. government never made a decision about Burisma that was affected by Hunter Biden’s board position.
Kent said in October last year that “in the aggregate (Hunter's job) didn't have any discernible effect.”
Generally, the report aims to paint Hunter Biden’s activities as unseemly, and his father as complicit. What’s missing is any fresh new evidence bolstering the notion that Hunter Biden's activities actually subverted U.S. policy in Ukraine, beyond concerning U.S. officials.
In the course of the investigation, Johnson’s committee pursued a sweeping set of subpoenas for former Obama-Biden administration officials to appear for testimony. They secured several interviews, including with former State Department official Victoria Nuland and Biden adviser Amos Hochstein.
Yet, the report relies just as heavily—if not more so—on media reports that had been in the public realm long before the GOP committees took interviews. A New Yorker profile of Hunter Biden from 2019, in particular, is heavily cited.
When it is not attempting to raise the specter of general sketchiness by the Bidens, the GOP report reads as a general airing of grievances by the chairmen, particularly Johnson, who has increasingly bristled at scrutiny of his contentious investigation.
A full 10 pages of the 87-page report, slotted in the middle of material about Biden and Ukraine, serves as a venue for the Republicans to vent against Democrats for arguing that the GOP probe advanced Russian disinformation efforts and for “media leaks.”
There is plenty of disdain, too, for the media outlets that reported critically on the investigation. “The Democrats’ false narrative has continued to be picked up, amplified, and circulated by a broad network of Democrat-friendly media outlets and Democratic members of Congress,” says the report.
Elsewhere in the report, Republicans simply dump assorted dirt on Biden’s son. Hunter, say the Republicans, paid women who were Russian nationals and allegedly linked to a prostitution ring. There’s an entire section of the report devoted to how Hunter Biden received U.S. Secret Service protection on trips abroad while his father was vice president.
The GOP also raises Hunter Biden’s China ties—a topic that Team Trump openly encouraged the Chinese government to probe in 2019—and says the connections “raise criminal concerns and extortion threats” without citing any specific evidence other than “records acquired by the committee.” These are cited in the report frequently as “confidential documents.”
Those mysterious documents also form the basis of the Republicans’ parting shot: that they may not be done yet with Hunter Biden. Republicans say they will continue to review the documents in their possession. “There remains,” reads the report’s final sentence, “much work to be done.”