A Republican-led Senate investigation of the work of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine finally landed Wednesday — not with a bang, as its authors had long promised, but with a whimper.
Led by Sens. Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, its findings are merely a compilation of information already in the public sphere: testimonies from US officials given during last year’s impeachment hearings, controversial news articles, and unsubstantiated information published online by discredited Ukrainian operatives — all used to support weighty allegations that have already been debunked.
Democrats have said there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the Bidens’ part and that the report’s findings would only further spread Russia-backed disinformation with just six weeks to go until Election Day.
At 87 pages, the Republicans’ report of the investigation, titled “Hunter Biden, Burisma and Corruption,” is unlikely to rock Biden’s campaign for the White House. Beyond stating that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, interfered with “efficient execution” US–Ukraine policy, there is nothing damning enough to throw Joe Biden’s candidacy off course.
The Johnson–Grassley report concludes that “Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine.” It also alleges that Hunter and other Biden relatives “cashed in on Joe Biden’s vice presidency.”
But the report undermines its own findings, stating that “the extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected US policy toward Ukraine is not clear.”
The report relies heavily on the public remarks of two US officials, including top State Department official George Kent, who said Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma was “very awkward” for US officials who were pushing an anti-corruption agenda in post-revolution Ukraine.
Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, have been accused by Ukrainian authorities of corruption and are embroiled in investigations in Kyiv. But two of Ukraine’s last three prosecutors general — including Yuriy Lutsenko, who played a role in Rudy Giuliani’s backdoor Ukraine campaign to help Donald Trump — have said that no evidence has ever been found to suggest Hunter Biden was part of any corrupt scheme.
The report also highlights a controversial 2017 Politico article by reporters Ken Vogel, who is now with the New York Times, and David Stern, which has been used by Republicans to push debunked claims that Ukraine — not Russia — had interfered in the 2016 election.
Listed in the report’s findings was also the allegation that “Hunter Biden received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Elena Baturina, the wife of the former mayor of Moscow.” But the report later states that the transfer was made to a company co-founded by Hunter and does not provide evidence to suggest that he himself received the money. Johnson and Grassley’s source appears in the footnotes to be a “confidential document.”
Asked by BuzzFeed News for more information about the document, a spokesperson for Johnson said via email that “the report is methodical about where the money went. ... The company was owned and controlled by Hunter. Are you actually insinuating that because the financial docs, the ones that were referenced in the report that is, don’t include a direct deposit into his personal bank account that it changes the point somehow?”
Grassley’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Johnson and Grassley’s investigation, which was launched last year amid the Trump impeachment saga, has been mired in controversy ever since, with Democrats accusing the senators of doing the president’s bidding by trying to damage his opponent.
The two Republicans spend several pages of their report trying to deflect allegations from Democrats and reports from the “liberal media” about the Senate Republicans laundering through their investigation Russian disinformation from discredited Ukrainian operatives, including lawmaker Andriy Derkach.
This month, the US Treasury sanctioned Derkach, who was trained at a KGB academy in Moscow, and deemed him to be an “active Russian agent” working to undermine the election. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Russian operation involving Derkach “was designed to culminate prior to Election Day.”
In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesperson, alluded to the Russian operation in blasting Johnson for “subsidiz[ing] a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars.”
The Johnson–Grassley report ends by saying that “there remains much work to be done,” citing the Senate Democrats’ and executive branch’s failure to comply with document requests.
This story has been updated to clarify information about the 2017 Politico story on Ukraine and that Republicans have used it to repeat debunked claims about the country's role in the 2016 US election.