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State Department viewed Burisma lobbying campaign as ‘aggressive, threatening, bullying’

Officials acutely aware, concerned about Hunter Biden role on Ukrainian firm's board, memos show. Watchdog calls for special prosecutor to examine.

Updated: December 7, 2020 - 8:18am

Newly declassified State Department memos show the U.S. embassy in Ukraine was deeply concerned by a lobbying campaign being waged by the Hunter Biden-connected Burisma Holdings gas firm and its allies, describing one contact shortly before the 2016 election as "aggressive, threatening, bullying."

The memos — released to Just the News and the conservative Citizens United watchdog under separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits — show State officials were acutely aware of the sensitivities of rebuffing a pressure campaign carried out by the Ukrainian natural gas firm that had hired then-Vice President Joe Biden's son.

For instance, the embassy's deputy economic counselor sent an email two weeks after Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016 detailing efforts by Burisma's founder Nikolay Zlochevsky to clear his company of long-pending corruption allegations.

It noted Hunter Biden's longtime business partner and fellow Burisma board member, Devon Archer, had been indicted in the U.S. on fraud charges, adding to Burisma's woes in trying to settle its corruption case with the newly installed Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.

"Despite his ruined name in Ukraine, Zlochevsky is actively campaigning for public rehabilitation, particularly with us," the State official wrote on Nov. 22, 2016. "He has been sending letters to Ambassadors [Marie] Yovanovitch and [Geoffrey] Pyatt for months asserting his innocence. We have declined to get involved.

"I should note that there were two American members of the Burisma board: Hunter Biden and Devon Archer. Archer was recently indicted in a federal fraud case."

Just a few months earlier, the embassy's charge de affairs George P. Kent recounted in an email sent to Yovanovitch and others an extraordinary confrontational call he had with Sally Painter of Blue Star Strategies, the U.S. firm Burisma had hired to help resolve its corruption issues in Ukraine.

At the time, Blue Star was courting Lutsenko — the prosecutor who eventually settled the Burisma case with a modest fine — by offering to bring him to the United States and introduce him to State and Justice officials and top officials of Hillary Clinton's campaign, the memos show.

Kent objected to the trip, apparently triggering Painter's wrath in the call, the memos state.

"Painter adopted a hostile, aggressive tone from the outside, and was rude and accusatory throughout," Kent wrote in a Sept. 6, 2016 recap of the call. "It was unlike any conversation I have had in my 24 plus years in the foreign service and completely inappropriate on her part.

"I told her, given the aggressive, threatening, bullying tone she had adopted and her misrepresentations of what I had said in the course of diplomatic discussion, I was within norms and my rights simply to wish her good day and hang up. I instead offered a partial reset if she were interested."

Kent said he offered Painter a chance for the U.S. embassy to arrange a Lutsenko trip to the U.S. at a later date, but "Painter went back into interrogative mode."

Painter did not respond to repeated email requests over the last year seeking comment from Just the News. But in a deposition with the Senate this summer, Painter acknowledged she was upset with Kent and had reached out to other State officials, including an ambassador named Dan Fried, to get advice.

She said she also tried to reach Joe Biden's top foreign policy adviser, then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, but was unsuccessful. Blinken was recently nominated by Joe Biden to be Secretary of State if Biden assumes the presidency in January.

Asked why she was upset, she testified: "Mr. Kent had made false allegations about Blue Star, and I was trying to get Dan's view on the best way to handle it."

Painter acknowledged talking to Kent, calling it brief and unproductive.

"I asked Mr. Kent to stop making false allegations about our firm," she said.

"Was he receptive to your overture?" she was asked.

"He was not," Painter answered.

Lutsenko eventually settled the Burisma cases in late December 2016 and early 2017, shocking State Department officials who believed bribes had been paid.

Kent testified to the Senate he believed Hunter Biden's role at Burisma while his father oversaw Ukraine-U.S. policy created the appearance of a conflict of interest that concerned him and other State officials.

Whatever the case, the new emails provide fresh evidence that the pressure by Burisma and its defenders to end the corruption probes against it in Ukraine was far-reaching and aggressive in the final days of the Obama-Biden administration. 

David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, said the release of the emails after the 2020 election deprived voters of making an informed choice about Joe Biden and illustrate why there is a need for a special prosecutor to examine the Bidens' dealings in Ukraine.

"These are explosive documents, and that's why the State Department hid them from the public until after the election," Bossie said. "These emails make clear that what's currently known about the Obama-Biden Administration's dealings with Burisma and Hunter Biden is just the tip of the iceberg. The appointment of a special counsel is the only way to get to the bottom of this corruption."