Turley: Joe Biden's Ukraine Defense Falls Apart

Authored by Jonathan Turley,

Below is my column in the New York Post on new evidence contradicting the account of President Joe Biden on his role in forcing the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Biden’s boast about forcing the termination could become a defining moment in the corruption scandal.

Here is the column:

President Barack Obama famously warned fellow Democrats in 2020, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f–k things up.”

The warning was ignored by many as an almost brotherly reference to Biden’s habit of making false claims (like being arrested when seeking to see Nelson Mandela) or his continual verbal gaffes.

Biden has always had a certain penchant for bragging, whether it’s claiming a dead man told him he reached a million miles on Amtrak, being a cross-country trucker or fighting off some “bad dude” named Corn Pop.

But one of those bravado moments may have revealed more than vanity.

Ironically, it’s the one controversial story that appears entirely true.

In a 2018 interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden bragged that he unilaterally withheld a billion dollars in US aid from the Ukrainians to force them to fire prosecutor general Viktor Shokin.

The Ukrainians balked, but Biden gave them an ultimatum: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”

The response from the Washington elite was rapturous, though the story was not only impolitic but embarrassing for an ally.

The Ukrainians were Joe’s new Corn Pop, and he recounted how he stared them down in a “High Noon” diplomatic moment.

A State Department memo is shedding disturbing light on that account and shredding aspects of Biden’s justification for the action.

Indeed, the ultimatum may have been the quid in a quid pro quo agreement as part of the Biden influence-peddling scandal.

The premise of the story is that Biden took this extraordinary stand because there was little hope for the anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine if Shokin remained prosecutor.

That is now questionable.

The Oct. 1, 2015, memo summarizes the recommendation of the Interagency Policy Committee that was handling the anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine: “Ukraine has made sufficient progress on its reform agenda to justify a third guarantee.”

One senior official even complimented Shokin on his progress in fighting corruption.

So Biden was told to deliver on the federal aid but elected to unilaterally demand Shokin be fired.

When the firing occurred, Shokin’s office was investigating Burisma Holdings, an energy firm that paid Hunter Biden a huge amount of money.

The State Department had identified it as a corrupt company engaged in bribery.

Recent testimony from Devon Archer, a business associate of Hunter Biden, revealed that Burisma executives made the removal of Shokin a top priority and raised it with Hunter.

He described how the need to neutralize Shokin was raised with Hunter and how “a call to Washington” was made in response. While Archer also said that “the narrative spun to me was that Shokin was under control,” he and others also heard concerns over Shokin and the risks of the investigation.

President Biden has insisted, “I did nothing wrong. 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.”

Indeed, that will now be the focus, including the close correlation of the money and demands going to Hunter and the actions of his father.

There is evidence the State Department was alarmed by Hunter’s work and its impact on anti-corruption efforts.

While Joe was portraying his work as fighting corruption, some officials were warning the Bidens could be part of the problem, not the solution, in Ukraine.

Leading diplomat George Kent wrote then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, “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.”

As part of the first impeachment of Donald Trump, Democrats largely dismissed earlier accounts of these misgivings and portrayed Shokin as a thoroughly corrupt prosecutor perpetuating corruption.

Biden’s Ukrainian Corn Pop story was celebrated as a gutsy moment of leadership.

During the impeachment, Kent said Biden’s demand was consistent with US policy.

Yet we now know the State Department had found progress was being made on corruption and Shokin was praised in private correspondence.

The demand for the replacement of the equivalent of the attorney general in another country is an extraordinary move.

We give massive amounts of money to countries with rampant corruption and authoritarian records.

But Biden decided Shokin had to go and used public money to make that happen.

The memo also highlights the flaws in the Trump impeachment.

When I testified before the House Judiciary Committee at the only impeachment hearing, I told the committee it should not depart from history and proceed to an impeachment without fact witnesses on the grounds for impeachment.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff and others refused.

It now seems there was material evidence that would have been used at the impeachment trial.

Trump was alleging there was a conflict of interest with the Bidens, and the evidence could have challenged Biden’s account and established his son’s interest in the Shokin firing.

I still do not believe Trump should have raised the matter in that call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This evidence may not have made a difference to some senators, but it demonstrates why impeachments should proceed after fact hearings.

Instead, in the second impeachment, the Democrats went one better.

They used what I called a “snap impeachment” without even a hearing on the impeachment standards and articles.

The House could now have little choice but to hold the very hearings the Democrats blocked during the earlier impeachment — with a different president under constitutional scrutiny.

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