Prize for Ukrainian prosecutor who settled Burisma case? A meeting with Clinton campaign
Newly released memos show efforts by Hunter Biden firm to woo key law enforcement official.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
A few months after Joe Biden forced the firing of Ukraine's chief prosecutor, his son's company Burisma Holdings courted the replacement with a promise to bring him to Washington to meet with Hillary Clinton's campaign in the final weeks of the 2016 election, newly released State Department memos reveal.
Burisma's effort to woo — through its Democrat-tied U.S. lobbying firm — newly installed Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko raised concerns at the highest levels of the U.S. embassy in Kiev, where officials tried to talk the prosecutor out of the trip given the fact he was overseeing a probe of the gas company.
"Lutsenko now likely not to go to DC with Blue Star," senior State official George Kent wrote then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in September 2016 after talking with Lutsenko about the bad optics of the trip.
"He got the drift," Kent added. "Not ideal timing, little receptive audience and wrong facilitator. He said he'd figure out a better time when there would be more traction/better audience."
Kent's discussion was one of many inside the State Department, where Burisma's behavior and efforts to use U.S. Democratic contacts to make its corruption probe in Ukraine go away created concern for U.S. officials.
Kent recently testified to Senate investigators he believed Joe Biden created the appearance of a conflict of interest by continuing to oversee U.S. anti-corruption policy — including firing Lutsenko's predecessor Viktor Shokin — while his son Hunter's Ukrainian employer remained under corruption investigation.
Kent twice reported to his superiors alleged efforts by Burisma to make bribes to Ukrainian officials, and he and other officials routinely chronicled efforts by Burisma and its high-powered Democrat lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies to pressure U.S. and Ukrainian officials to drop corruption investigations of the gas firm. Burisma has always denied wrongdoing.
Kent's and Yovanovitch's concerns about the effort to lobby Lutsenko grew to alarm when in December 2016 — just a few weeks before Joe Biden and Barack Obama left office — the Ukrainian prosecutors announced they settled the cases against Burisma for a modest tax penalty, the memos show.
"The Burisma tale of getting a court to shut down a PGO investigation noted below would amount to nearly the same mechanism — rich connected businessman politician seeks to use the court/judge of unknown reputation to close an investigation of a business with a dodgy reputation," a deflated Kent wrote Yovanovitch on Jan. 13, 2017, one week before President Trump took office.
Officials for Blue Star, Lutsenko and Burisma did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The newly released memos, provided to Just the News on Friday under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed with the Southeastern Legal Foundation, provided extraordinary detail on how Lutsenko got courted after Joe Biden in March 2016 prompted the firing of his predecessor as Ukraine's chief prosecutor in the middle of the Burisma probe.
Biden has admitted he got Shokin fired in March 2016 by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S.-backed loans to prosecutors but insisted it had nothing to do with Burisma and was warranted because Shokin was considered ineffective. Shokin claims he was fired because he wouldn't drop the case against Burisma and had made plans to summon Hunter Biden as a witness.
Whatever the case, Shokin's firing opened a new window for Burisma and its American lawyers to try to get the corruption probe settled.
The memos show State officials began to get word of Blue Star's efforts to bring Lutsenko to Washington for his first major meeting with American officials in August 2016 and then jumped into motion to try to head off what they viewed as embarrassing optics.
Kent reported to Yovanovitch the results of his conversations with Lutsenko on Sept. 3, 2016, expressing confidence Lutsenko would turn down Blue Star's offer to meet with then Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
"We talked through options of trip planning for his notional Aug 25 dash 27 visit. He confirmed he had been pitched by blue star, not sought them out. He said he honestly didn't know how blue star was to get paid- he didn't have funds," Kent wrote.
"Blue Star CEO Tramontano's pitch was that she could gain him access to high levels of the Clinton campaign (GPK note: she was Podesta's deputy as deputy COS the last year of Bill Clinton's tenure)."
Kent reported that Lutsenko had found the offer "appeals — to meet the possible next Presidential Chief of Staff. But I pointed out that wasn't too likely 6 weeks before the election."
In an interview with Senate investigators, Tramontano admitted having two contacts with Lutsenko starting in June 2016 concerning efforts to settle the case. She was not, however, asked about Lutsenko's trip to Washington.
"It was to state that the cases had been pending for a long time, that it would be good to know what Mr. Lutsenko as the new prosecutor general, what plans he had regarding these cases," she explained.