WASHINGTON — A Ukrainian company that employed Hunter Biden paid more than $450,000 to a prominent Washington think tank, including picking up the tab for energy-related conferences as part of a campaign to burnish its image in the United States after it was accused by Western officials of corruption.
Burisma’s support of the Atlantic Council was detailed last week by the Wall Street Journal, which said the company had given the think tank $100,000 per year for three years starting in 2016. The council lists Burisma as a contributor on its website.
The Atlantic Council told Yahoo News Tuesday that in addition to the $100,000 given annually by Burisma, the company “also reimbursed speaker travel and event costs, which ... amounted to around [$50,000 to $70,000] per year.”
In the public impeachment proceedings starting Wednesday, Republicans, led by House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., will likely focus on Burisma to justify efforts by President Trump and his associates to pressure the Ukrainian government to publicly announce it was investigating the company. Republicans have already delved deep into the dealings of Burisma in closed-door depositions over the past month.
The Democrat-led impeachment inquiry in the House is based on the allegation that because Trump wanted the Ukrainians to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden — a leading rival for the presidency — he attempted “to coerce a foreign nation to engage in political investigations designed to help his campaign,” as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., put it on Tuesday.
There is also the issue of an Atlantic Council-sponsored trip that brought a dozen or so congressional staffers to Ukraine in August. The trip included Republican and Democratic staffers, but one — Thomas Eager — worked for Schiff’s Intelligence Committee, and the group at one point met with Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.
Taylor is one of the first two witnesses who will testify on Wednesday, and during the senior diplomat’s closed-door deposition on Oct. 22, Republican staff lawyer Steve Castor asked him about when he had first been contacted by congressional staff about coming from Kiev to Washington to be deposed.
“Somebody sent me a note or an invitation to come probably two weeks ago?” Taylor said, according to the transcript.
Castor followed up: “But prior to today, have you had any communications with congressional staff about any of the issues that we’ve discussed here today?”
Taylor said he had not. Still, Castor went on to ask him about the trip, and Taylor said that he had given a briefing at his residence to about 15 staffers who had gone on the trip with John Herbst, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006 and is now with the Atlantic Council.
Castor asked Taylor about Burisma’s contributions to the Atlantic Council, and Taylor said he had not known about it until very recently. “I have great respect for the people. I know a lot of the people at the Atlantic Council. And I know that they have to raise funds,” Taylor said.
But the Atlantic Council’s acceptance of money from Burisma raised red flags for at least one prominent Ukrainian anti-corruption advocate.
“I begged John Herbst from Atlantic Council back in January 2017 to refuse taking Burisma money, but I didn’t succeed. It was my deepest disappointment,” wrote Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder and executive director of the Anti-corruption Action Centre, on Twitter.
Kaleniuk said that Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky “was donating to [the Atlantic Council] to whitewash his reputation.”
“This case is a top of the iceberg of the huge problem on the WEST,” she wrote in a subsequent tweet. “Think tanks and educational institutions are frequently accepting money from oligarchs and kleptocrats across the world. This undermines credibility of such institutions, but cleans the reputation of crooks.”
However, Kaleniuk has also described Joe Biden’s role in the Burisma affair as aboveboard, directly contradicting the way that Trump and Republicans are trying to portray Biden’s calls for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor as an attempt to help or protect his son.
She has previously argued that Biden’s push to fire Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was not to stop an investigation of Burisma, but rather because Shokin wasn’t pursuing corruption cases, like that of Burisma.
Kaleniuk also tweeted that her organization “had to reboot [its] board to make sure John Herbst was not affiliated with us any more.” Herbst had been on the group’s supervisory board, according to testimony by George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, in his deposition during the impeachment inquiry.
The Atlantic Council did not answer questions about whether it had concerns about taking money from Burisma, but the group’s president, Fred Kempe, told the Wall Street Journal that his organization had done its “own internal due diligence, and were satisfied that we could add them to our roster of supporters.”
And Geysha González, who helped create and coordinate the Eurasia Congressional Fellowship at the Atlantic Council, told Yahoo News that any money given by Burisma had not been used to pay for anything related to the August trip to Ukraine.
“I’ve talked to anybody who’s asked. There’s nothing here,” González said. “No funder can push us on where their funding goes to, or can manage our agendas.”
Kaleniuk voiced her concerns on Twitter after the release of Kent’s deposition transcript. Kent will also testify in the impeachment hearing Wednesday.
Kent, in his deposition, described his own understanding of Burisma’s corruption, and related the story of Kaleniuk’s attempt to get the Atlantic Council not to accept Burisma’s money. Kent also shared that he had stopped a U.S. government agency from accepting money from Burisma.
“There apparently was an effort for Burisma to help co-sponsor, I guess, a contest that USAID was sponsoring related to clean energy,” Kent said. “And when I heard about it I asked USAID to stop that sponsorship. ... Burisma had a poor reputation in the business, and I didn’t think it was appropriate for the U.S. government to be co-sponsoring something with a company that had a bad reputation.”
Michael Isikoff contributed to this article.
Cover thumbnail photo: Then Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2010. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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