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Alleged foreign agent law violations loom over Hunter Biden as House prepares to depose him

Violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act have been overlooked in the impeachment inquiry, but new registrations and an opportunity for Hunter Biden to appear before the committee may bring them to the forefront.

Published: January 16, 2024 11:00pm

The U.S. law firm that did work for Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings was encouraged by the Justice Department to register as a foreign agent for the same type of work that Hunter Biden did for the company while he was a board member. Burisma was not registered as a foreign agent at the time.

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP (Cravath) as part of its representation of Burisma and its founder, litigation partner John Buretta met with State Department officials and sent a letter directly to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings submitted earlier this month.

Evidence from Hunter Biden’s laptop shows that he, too, met with State Department officials at the time when Burisma was under the most pressure from a Ukrainian government investigation led by Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, raising questions about whether or not Hunter Biden’s activities fell under the scope of the act.

Federal prosecutors and IRS investigators explored this possibility. When Special Counsel David Weiss announced nine federal tax charges against Hunter Biden, he said that the investigation remains “ongoing,” indicating that further charges could be brought against the first son.

Information revealed to Congress by IRS Whistleblowers Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler showed that their investigative team and Weiss’ Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office were looking in to potential violations of FARA by Hunter Biden. Weiss continues to probe whether Hunter Biden violated the act.

Cravath’s retroactive FARA filings show the scope of the work that lawyer John Buretta carried out for Burisma at the height of the Ukrainian government’s corruption investigation into the natural gas company, which peaked in 2016.

Cravath was apparently motivated to belatedly register under the law after discussions with the DOJ about its work for the energy company, according to a statement from the firm.

This may indicate continued interest in FARA violations surrounding Burisma’s multi-pronged public relations and legal efforts to shut down the government investigation against them, which included outreach to State Department officials and the Ambassador to Ukraine, some of which occurred through backchannels by Hunter Biden.

“[After] discussions with the Department of Justice regarding FARA’s scope, Cravath has filed a retroactive registration covering legal services provided to two former clients in March and September 2016,” the firm said after the filings were reported, according to Reuters.

“In January 2016, Mr. Buretta was retained to represent Mykola Zlochevsky in connection with possible investigations by governmental authorities in the United States,” the FARA registration paperwork reads. “The representation thereafter broadened to include Burisma Holdings Limited, as well as governmental investigations in Ukraine, and continued until April 2017,” it continues.

The filings detail the acts which fall under regulation by FARA, including meetings with government officials. One filing showed that Buretta had three meetings with U.S. State Department and DOJ officials and sent a letter to then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

“This registration and related materials cover all interactions with U.S. government officials in the course of the representation,” the registration reads. “As part of this representation, Mr. Buretta met with three U.S. government officials in March 2016 and sent one letter to a U.S. government official in September 2016.”

In an attached exhibit, the firm identified the three officials: Catherine Novelli, Bruce Swartz and Amos Hochstein. "Meet with U.S. official to present facts relevant to potential U.S. and Ukrainian investigations,” the form reads next to each entry under a column labeled “purpose.”

Novelli served in the State Department as the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment from 2014 to 2017. Swartz is a DOJ official who at the time was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Counselor for International Affairs for the department.

Amos Hochstein served in the State Department as the Special Envoy for the Bureau of Energy Resources during the Obama Administration and is documented as a close advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. He currently serves in the Biden State Department as a Special Presidential Coordinator.

It was Hochstein who also met with Hunter and Joe Biden during the fallout from the Ukrainian investigation into Burisma and the U.S. media’s efforts to question Hunter Biden about his role on the board of the company.

Hochstein was also one of the key officials aboard Air Force Two during discussions with Vice President Biden about Shokin. During these discussions, Vice President Biden ultimately “called an audible” and decided to call for the prosecutor general’s ouster in connection to a $1 billion loan guarantee from the United States, a narrative that has now become infamous after being at the center of the first Trump impeachment.

Hunter Biden’s meetings with Hochstein during the time that Vice President Biden was preparing to travel to Ukraine raises questions about whether the younger Biden should have registered under FARA at the time, especially because Burisma’s U.S. lawyer had to register for similar meetings with the State Department official.

In October of 2015, Hochstein reportedly raised the issue of Hunter Biden’s work on Burisma’s board directly with Joe Biden, according to testimony with the Senate Committees on Homeland Security and Finance.

Hochstein testified that he “wanted to make sure that he [Vice President Biden] was aware that there was an increase in chatter on media outlets close to Russians and corrupt oligarchs-owned media outlets about undermining his message—to try to undermine his [Vice President Biden’s] message and including Hunter Biden being part of the board of Burisma.” 

According to Senate investigators and an email obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop, Hunter Biden reached out to him to set up a meeting for coffee on November 4, 2015, shortly after he reportedly spoke with his father.

The communications between them continued after the meeting. “Amos Hochstein called,” Hunter Biden’s secretary emailed him shortly after. “Please call back today if possible,” she wrote.

Then, on December 6, Hochstein was photographed briefing the vice president on his way to Ukraine. When Senate investigators—led by Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson—asked about this briefing, Hochstein declined to elaborate on the specifics of his conversations with the vice president but said, “In my conversation with Hunter Biden, I did not recommend that he leave the board” of Burisma.  

After new reporting by Just the News last September about how Joe Biden came to influence U.S. policy in Ukraine during the pivotal time for Burisma, the Washington Post fact-checkers updated their reporting that elevated the importance of that December plane ride to Kyiv. The Post concluded, citing officials with knowledge of the trip, that President Biden had “called an audible,” or changed the plan, on the firing of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. This happened shortly after his son and he had both met with Hochstein and while Burisma was under increasing threat from the Ukrainian prosecutor.

Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Hunter Biden, did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News about potential FARA violations. In an interview with CBS News last August, Lowell told "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan that concerns over Hunter Biden’s compliance with FARA were false allegations.

“Our client has been investigated in a five year, long, thorough painstaking investigation for every transaction that he was involved in,” Lowell said.

“But, you asked me whether or not [FARA] has been part of the investigation and after five years and what we know happened in the grand jury, of course that had to be part of what the prosecutor has already looked at, as well as every other false allegation made by the right wing media and others, whether it's corruption or FARA, or money laundering,” he continued.

Lowell is no stranger to FARA cases. He previously secured an acquittal for Matthew Grimes, an assistant to the Chair of Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration Tom Barrack, in a FARA case. Barrack was accused of using access to Trump to promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates. He was also acquitted on charges of being an unregistered foreign agent.

The meeting with Hochstein is not the only interaction Hunter Biden arranged. According to the same Senate investigation from Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, Hunter Biden also corresponded with the wife of Antony Blinken in an attempt to secure a meeting between Blinken—then a Deputy Secretary of State—and Blue Star Strategies, the U.S. lobbying firm employed by Burisma.

Hunter Biden had connected Blue Star Strategies with Burisma in order to deal with media fallout from his board position and to close down investigations into Burisma’s founder in Ukraine, according to previous reporting by Just the News. This mirrored Buretta’s efforts to do the same as Burisma’s and Zlochevsky's lawyer.

The criminal penalties associated with FARA can be applied to any person “who willfully violates any provision of FARA or any regulation thereunder” or makes false statements in their filings, according to the Department of Justice.

Most importantly for the potential FARA case against Hunter Biden, his is still liable to be charged for any potential violations, unlike the statute of limitations the DOJ allowed to expire on his alleged tax crimes for the years he received a salary from Burisma.

According to the DOJ, “Failure to file a registration statement or supplements thereto as required by FARA shall be considered a continuing offense for as long as such failure exists, notwithstanding any statute of limitation or other statute to the contrary.”

Because Hunter Biden has not yet filed a registration for any acts he took on behalf of Burisma—his meeting with State Department official Amos Hochstein and efforts to secure communication between Blue Star Strategies and Blinken—the offense is considered “ongoing” according to the law.

Much like Cravath, Blue Star Strategies also retroactively filed its registration under FARA under pressure from the DOJ in 2022, years after its work representing the energy firm. Under its registration, Blue Star Strategies recorded some of the same activity that Hunter Biden appeared to be involved in: meetings with government officials.

"Beginning in November 2015 and continuing through the relevant period of 2016, Blue Star Strategies, registrant, was working on behalf of Burisma Holdings Limited (Burisma), a Ukrainian energy company, to further its commercial interests," Blue Star wrote in its FARA report.

"Mr. Zlochevsky was a principal of Burisma at that time. Registrant was asked in 2016 to help schedule meetings with U.S. Government officials so counsel for Mr. Zlochevsky could present an explanation of certain adverse proceedings in the U.K. and Ukraine involving Mr. Zlochevsky,” it continued.

The firm arranged two meetings, according to its filing, with some of the same officials that Cravath pursued: Amos Hochstein and Catherine Novelli. Both of these meetings took place in early 2016. Despite this, Blue Star is also alleged to have organized additional meetings not recorded in the filings on behalf of Burisma, according to documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by Just the News.

Potential FARA charges for Hunter Biden still remain top of mind for members of the House Oversight Committee.

Shortly after it was reported that Cravath belatedly registered under the act, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—who sits on the committee—posted to X: “Of course the DOJ would have never charged him without the IRS whistleblower’s courageous testimonies, but the DOJ left off FARA charges. The income came from foreign countries and we have proof.”

In December, committee Chairman Comer said on Fox News’ “Hannity” that questions about Hunter Biden’s potential FARA violations remain front and center, and that Joe Biden may be implicated.

"You also have the obvious violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and who was he lobbying for?” Comer told host Sean Hannity. “He was lobbying for China, Russia and some of the worst countries on the world. But also, he was lobbying his father, so that makes Joe Biden liable in Foreign Agent Registration Act liability. So we’ve got a lot of concerns here.”