By John Solomon and Steven Richards
Just weeks before then-Vice President Joe Biden took the opposite action in late 2015, a task force of State, Treasury and Justice Department officials declared that Ukraine had made adequate progress on anti-corruption reforms and deserved a new $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee, according to government memos that conflict with the narrative Democrats have sustained since the 2019 impeachment scandal.
“Ukraine has made sufficient progress on its reform agenda to justify a third guarantee,” reads an Oct. 1, 2015, memo summarizing the recommendation of the Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) – a task force created to advise the Obama White House on whether Ukraine was cleaning up its endemic corruption and deserved more Western foreign aid.
The recommendation is one of several U.S. government memos gathered by Just the News over the last 36 months from Freedom of Information Act litigation, congressional inquiries and government agency sources that directly conflict with the long-held narrative that Biden was conducting official U.S. policy when he threatened to withhold a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee to force Ukraine to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, the country’s equivalent of the American attorney general.
At the time the threat was made in December 2015, Shokin’s office was conducting an increasingly aggressive corruption investigation into Burisma Holdings, an energy firm the State Department deemed to have been engaged in bribery and that employed Hunter Biden and paid him millions while his father was vice president.
New details on the impact of that probe have emerged in recent days.
Shokin’s pursuit was rattling Burisma, and the firm was putting pressure on Hunter Biden to deal with it, according to recent testimony and interviews with Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s former business partner and fellow Burisma board member.
The memos obtained by Just the News show:
- Senior State Department officials sent a conflicting message to Shokin before he was fired, inviting his staff to Washington for a January 2016 strategy session and sent him a personal note saying they were “impressed” with his office’s work.
- U.S. officials faced pressure from Burisma emissaries in the United States to make the corruption allegations go away and feared the energy firm had made two bribery payments in Ukraine as part of an effort to get cases settled.
- A top U.S. official in Kyiv blamed Hunter Biden for undercutting U.S. anticorruption policy in Ukraine through his dealings with Burisma.
During Trump’s first impeachment in late 2019, State officials testified that Hunter Biden’s acceptance of a job at Burisma at a time when his father was vice president created the appearance of a conflict of interest but did not materially impact U.S. policy in Ukraine.
But in a private, classified email shared with Just the News, one of the top U.S. officials in the Kyiv embassy told then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch at the end of the Obama administration that Hunter Biden had, in fact, impacted the U.S. anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine.
“The real issue to my mind was that someone in Washington needed to engage VP Biden quietly and say that his son Hunter’s presence on the Burisma board undercut the anti-corruption message the VP and we were advancing in Ukraine b/c Ukrainians heard one message from us and then saw another set of behavior with the family association with a known corrupt figure whose company was known for not playing by the rules,” embassy official George Kent wrote to Yovanovitch in the Nov. 22, 2016, email marked “confidential.”
Joe Biden’s role in pressuring then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in December 2015 to fire Shokin has been a searing controversy since April 2019, when the lead author on this story, as a columnist for The Hill, unearthed a 2018 videotape of the former vice president bragging about his role to a foreign policy think tank.
At the time Shokin was investigating Burisma for corruption, the company was paying Hunter Biden and Archer, $83,333 a month as board members.
“I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recounted in the speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
The disclosure prompted then-President Donald Trump to ask Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate.
Democrats howled and eventually impeached Trump in late 2019. The Senate acquitted the former president. Today, the original column that prompted the controversy is preserved in the official records of Congress.
Evidence would show during impeachment and afterward that Biden’s conversation with Poroshenko occurred during a trip to Kyiv in December 2015. Under withering pressure from U.S. and Western officials, the Ukrainian president eventually buckled and persuaded Shokin to resign a few months later in March 2016. Poroshenko would tell Biden there was no evidence Shokin had done anything wrong but he forced the resignation anyway to appease the president.
“Despite of the fact that we didn’t have any corruption charges, we don’t have any information about him doing something wrong, I especially asked him … No, it was the day before yesterday. I especially asked him to resign,” Poroshenko told Biden in an audio tape call from March 2016 that was eventually released by a Ukrainian lawmaker in 2020.
The narrative from Biden’s defenders and government officials who testified at Trump’s first impeachment was that Biden’s action in withholding the U.S. loan guarantees had nothing to do with his son’s role at Burisma and that officials across the West and inside the U.S. government were clamoring to fire Shokin because he was deemed corrupt.
Kent, for instance, answered “he did” when he was asked during his impeachment testimony whether Biden acted consistent with U.S. policy when he used the loan guarantee as leverage to force Shokin’s firing.
“I did nothing wrong,” Biden said during 2019 CNN-New York Times debate. “I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And that’s what we should be focusing on.”
Multiple lawyers who worked on Trump’s impeachment defense as well as some of the GOP House impeachment members told Just the News they did not recall ever seeing the documents unearthed by Just the News and said they would have made a significant difference to the impeachment case.
“This new evidence being uncovered and reported by Just The News is incredibly significant,” said former New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin. “It directly undercuts multiple false narratives that were being pushed by Congressional Democrats, some of their key impeachment witnesses, and Democrat allies in the media.”
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer who helped lead Trump’s legal team during the impeachment, said he did not believe the defense had access to such memos.
“The fact of the matter is none of these documents were handed over to us,” he said. “Our legal team never received documents from the House impeachment. So of course, they’re not obligated to in the sense of like in a courtroom. But when you have exculpatory documents, you would think that under just a good faith standards of the House of Representatives would have said, ‘You know, here’s what we’ve got.'”
Sekulow continued: “But of course, they weren’t going to do that. Because as soon as they did that, everyone knew their narrative was false.”
Some, but not all, of the memos were turned over in late 2020 to the Senate Homeland Security Committee during its probe of the Biden family finances, but they arrived too late to impact most of the interview the panel did or to make it into the panel’s final report, Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s office said.
In 2020, current Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, then State’s top expert on Ukraine, gave Johnson’s investigators a more specific timetable on when her department determined Shokin had to go, saying the concerns dated to summer of 2015 and involved the failure of Shokin’s office to prosecute former members of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“The initial expectation, when we began talking about the third loan guarantee, which I believe was in the summer of 2015, was that Prosecutor General Shokin make more progress than we had seen to clean up corruption inside the Prosecutor General’s Office itself – I’ll now refer to that as the PGO – and that he make more progress in mounting big corruption cases, including against Yanukovych cronies, that he make more progress in investigating the hundred dead on the Maidan by snipers during 2013-2014,” she told Senate investigators in the deposition.
“So the first press was to see him make the Prosecutor General’s Office, the PGO, clean and effective, so that’s what we started pressing in August, September, October.
“You see that pressed in the speech that Ambassador Pyatt gives in Odessa. You see it in my testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October of 2015. … It was a policy that was coordinated tightly with the Europeans, with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank. But not only did we not see progress, we saw the PGO go backward in this period,” she also said.
Another element of the Democrat-fed, media-driven narrative was that Shokin wasn’t really investigating Burisma and there was no threat to the company.
But key elements of that narrative have now been challenged since Archer told Congress that Burisma hired Hunter Biden in 2014 to gain access to a family “brand,” including his father, that would scare away prosecutors trying to investigate the company for corruption.
“People would be intimidated to mess with them,” Archer testified, describing the value Hunter brought to the company.
In a separate interview with TV host Tucker Carlson, Archer said that at the time Biden forced Shokin’s firing because he was posing a major threat to Burisma by going after the assets of the owner Mykola Zlochevsky.
“He was a threat,” Archer said. “He ended up seizing assets of Mykola – a house, some cars, a couple properties. And Mykola actually never went back to Ukraine after Shokin seized all of his assets.”