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The silence of the year: What did Hunter Biden do for Burisma?

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan December 16, 2019

Much of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense is based on exaggerations, falsehoods or oft-debunked conspiracy theories. But then there is this basic question: What was Hunter Biden doing on the board of a Ukrainian energy company?

Biden had no particular expertise in energy or Ukraine. He did, however, join the board of Burisma when his father Vice President Joe Biden was publicly representing U.S. policy on the country, which had become the center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West. 

Did the older Biden do anything wrong? Nothing has been proven. But what the adult son was up to remains mysterious, as are the details of what he was paid.

RELATED STORY: Lie of the Year 2019: Donald Trump’s claim whistleblower got Ukraine call 'almost completely wrong'

Hunter Biden’s work attracted attention at the time. The oligarch behind the firm, Mykola Zlochevsky, faced investigations for money laundering and tax evasion. (Zlochevsky and the company have denied the allegations.)

Staff at the State Department said they expressed concerns in 2015 when Hunter Biden started serving on the board of Burisma. 

George Kent, the senior anticorruption coordinator in the State Department's European Bureau, recently testified in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Kent said he raised the issue with the vice president’s staff, but was told that the vice president's son Beau was dying of cancer and that "there was no further bandwidth to deal with family-related issues at that time."

Reporting from The New Yorker published in April 2019 suggests that Hunter Biden was suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction while looking for work to support a high-end professional lifestyle. 

Some of the most detailed reporting on his Burisma work comes from Reuters but relies on unnamed sources. Reuters reported that Hunter Biden weighed in during scheduled meetings but did little of specific substance. There’s no evidence that he ever went to Ukraine or was in the country. The report suggests he was compensated for contributing his high-profile name. 

What has Hunter Biden said himself? 

In an October interview with ABC News, Biden said he and his father never discussed specifics of his work with Ukraine. He also said he earned his seat because of his previous work as an attorney and experience on the board of Amtrak and the United Nations World Food Program.

"I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on that board, if not more," he said.

When asked if he would have been invited onto the Burisma board if he’d had a different last name, he said, "I don’t know. Probably not." 

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The silence of the year: What did Hunter Biden do for Burisma?