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State Department says it considered Burisma corrupt, but kept dealing with its reps anyways

Despite the concerns about Burisma within the U.S. embassy, the Ambassador and other State Department officials continued to interact with the company’s representatives.

Published: October 8, 2023 11:14pm

During Donald Trump's first impeachment in 2019, State Department officials insisted they considered the Burisma Holdings energy firm in Ukraine that employed Hunter Biden to be corrupt and wanted nothing to do with it. But evidence that has emerged since shows U.S. embassy officials had extensive interactions with Burisma and its representatives between 2015 and 2018.

The evidence marks the latest evolution of a Democrat-driven narrative on the Bidens and Ukraine that was used to impeach Trump but that has since eroded under scrutiny.

Just the News recently published photos, obtained from the Burisma Holdings website and posts from the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, that show then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch meeting on multiple occasions with Burisma executive Vadim Pozharskyi, one of the colleagues who worked closely with Hunter Biden.

Yovanovitch, a key impeachment witness against Trump in 2019, also attended at least one other event with Joseph Cofer Black, a Burisma board member. These meetings show that on at least three occasions, the embassy participated in official events with Burisma despite its concerns about the company being corrupt and two reports of possible bribes it paid.

During her October 2019 testimony to House impeachment investigators, Yovanovitch suggested she knew little beyond an initial briefing and “press reports” about Burisma Holdings and the investigations into the company. 

Yet, communications inside her embassy about Burisma were extensive and her deputy, George Kent, briefed her multiple times on the corruption allegations against the company, according to internal State memos previously reported by Just the News.

The ambassador herself would also warn a U.S.-based non-profit about partnering with Burisma over the corruption allegations against the company, according to an email Just the News previously uncovered

Despite the concerns about Burisma within the embassy, the Ambassador and other State Department officials continued to interact with the company’s representatives. 

Here is a timeline that details State's continued interactions with Burisma and its knowledge of the corruption allegations against the company: 

February 2015: U.S. embassy official George Kent uncovers alleged bribe by Burisma owner. 

After George Kent—who served as Deputy Chief of Mission under Ambassadors Geoffrey Pyatt and Yovanovitch—arrived in Ukraine he organized a meeting with the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) under Vitaly Yarema to raise concerns about how the money-laundering case against Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky was being handled, according to Senate investigators

Kent told Senate investigators that a PGO deputy claimed Zlochevsky paid a $7 million bribe in May 2014 to the PGO before Yarema’s team came into office later that year. Kent testified that he had reason to believe the bribe was paid later, after Yarema became the head prosecutor. Kent said that the allegations of the bribe paid to the PGO was shared with the FBI through the Department of Justice representative at the embassy in Kyiv. 

Sept. 24, 2015: Ambassador Pyatt names Burisma owner as corrupt in speech

In a speech to the Odessa Financial Forum on September 24, 2015, then-Ambassador Pyatt told the audience that investigators in the Prosecutor General’s Office undermined a British corruption investigation into Zlochevsky. In the speech, Pyatt encouraged the PGO to support investigations into corruption, which he called a “tenacious enemy.” 

December 2015: Blue Star Strategies meets with State Department official Amos Hochstein

Amos Hochstein, a then-senior official at the State Department in charge of energy policy, met with Blue Star Strategies—the Democrat-connected political relations firm that represented Mykola Zlochevsky and Burisma—in December 2015, Hochstein told Senate investigators in 2020

“Blue Star informed me that--or I should say Sally and her team informed me that they were looking into--that they'd been hired by Burisma or by the Burisma board--I don't remember which one; it may have been the board--to look into the accusations against Mr. Zlochevsky and Burisma and to give an assessment of the veracity of the charges against Burisma--or, sorry, against Zlochevsky,” Hochstein testified.

Hochstein said he “told [Blue Star Strategies] that [he] believed that Mr. Zlochevsky faced real and credible accusations.” As we now know from the emails obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop, Blue Star Strategies was hired by Burisma to “close down” investigations into Zlochevsky in Ukraine and influence U.S. government officials to that end.

December 2015: Blue Star Strategies meets with Ambassador Pyatt

In December 2015, Blue Star Strategies secured a meeting with then-U.S. Ambassador Pyatt in which the Burisma lobbyists made a case that the gas firm should not be prosecuted any longer. Amos Hochstein later testified to the Senate that Blue Star Strategies was “frustrated” with that meeting because Pyatt’s view of Burisma remained unchanged.

Feb. 18, 2016: Blue Star Strategies requests a meeting with Under Secretary of State Catherine Novelli

According to testimony by Blue Star Strategies executive Karen Tramontano to the Senate, she sought a meeting with Under Secretary of State Catherine Novelli at the State Department in February of 2016, writing that she wished to “discuss a matter on which I need your advice.” She added: “Essentially, the U.S. Government has taken a position in a commercial matter regarding a Ukrainian individual, and I believe that position is in error."

A meeting with Under Secretary Novelli was sought because she was one of the key negotiators on the $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, according to Tramontano’s testimony. Tramontano testified that she secured the meeting in March of 2016, according to her recollection. She confirmed that the individual she referenced in her email was Mykola Zlochevsky. 

Mar. 2016: Hochstein meets with Blue Star Strategies a second time

Amos Hochstein testified that he met again with Blue Star Strategies in March of 2016, around the time that Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was removed. On March 21, 2016, Blue Star Strategies requested a meeting with Hochstein. The Blue Star employee wrote: “I understand you have previously met with Sally Painter regarding energy issues in Ukraine, and she is hoping to brief you on a sensitive energy matter ahead of President Poroshenko's upcoming visit to D.C. next week.”

Hochstein told investigators that Sally Painter, Karen Tramontano, and John Buretta—the lawyer representing Burisma Holdings at the time—attended the meeting. Though he could not recall specifics of what was discussed, Hochstein said “They were unhappy with the rhetoric from U.S. officials, myself included, regarding Mr. Zlochevsky.”

May 18, 2016: Marie Yovanovitch nominated as new ambassador to Ukraine

On May 18, President Obama nominated Marie Yovanovitch to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. 

Summer 2016: Kent intervenes to stop Burisma partnering with USAID

In the summer of 2016, George Kent intervened with USAID when he discovered that the foreign aid agency was planning to partner with Burisma on an award program for journalists covering the energy sector in Ukraine, according to an email briefing Kent sent to Ambassador Yovanovitch after the fact, obtained by Just the News. “When I heard… that a USAID implementer had agreed to a public-private sponsorship with Burisma of a contest of journalistic integrity in the energy sector, I pulled the plug immediately,” Kent later told Yovanovitch. 

Sept. 4, 2016: Ambassador Yovanovitch asks for more information on Burisma

On September 4, after George Kent shared with Ambassador Yovanovitch that Blue Star Strategies planned to bring the new Ukrainian Prosecutor General to the United States for an event with the Atlantic Council, which Kent discouraged, the Ambassador requested more information on the company. Kent told Yovanovitch about Blue Star’s representation of Burisma and Zlochevsky, to which the Ambassador Yovanovitch followed-up in an email: “Thanks George. At some point appreciate discussing in more detail some of the folks referenced.” Kent would later brief the ambassador on the allegations against Burisma and Zlochevsky

Sept. 15, 2016: Burisma lawyer John Buretta sends a detailed letter to Ambassador Yovanovitch

On September 15, John Buretta, the American lawyer representing Burisma, sent a letter to Ambassador Yovanovitch alerting her that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office was dropping a long-running corruption investigation of Burisma without filing charges based on a Ukrainian court ruling favorable to Zlochevsky. Buretta’s letter to Yovanovitch said the allegations against Zlochevsky were “baseless,” and the lawyer asked the U.S. embassy to drop its long-running narrative that Burisma was somehow corrupt. This letter was previously reported by Just the News

“We respectfully request that Your Excellency take into consideration these objective facts when considering the narrative promoted by some, and no doubt to be repeated again, in disregard of the facts and the law and the decisions by courts,” Buretta wrote the ambassador in a letter obtained from the State Department’s virtual reading room. 

Sept. 16, 2016: Kent briefs Yovanovitch on Burisma allegations and government relations campaign

According to State Department emails obtained previously by Just the News, George Kent briefed Ambassador Yovanovitch before her December meeting with Blue Star Strategies on “the background on the Zlochevsky case” and “Zlochevsky/Burisma - asset recovery and past crimes of the [Yanukovych] regime, as they intersect US corporate/individual interests.” 

Dec. 1, 2016: Yovanovitch attends event with Burisma representative Vadim Pozharskyi

According to an archived post from the Burisma Holdings website, “new” Ambassador Yovanovitch participated in an “informal meeting” hosted by the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council in December 2016. Burisma touted that it represented the “Ukrainian oil and gas sector” at the meeting and that Vadim Pozharskyi spoke on behalf of the company. 

Dec. 8, 2016: Yovanovitch meets with Blue Star Strategies in Kyiv

In December 2016, Ambassador Yovanovitch met with Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies in Kyiv. On the day of the meeting, Yovanovitch received a “briefing checklist” that told her Tramontano was an informal representative of Mykola Zlochevsky. The memo proceeded to detail the corruption allegations against Zlochevsky and his company, Burisma, and included reference to the embassy’s directive to USAID to avoid partnering with Burimsa because of the allegations.

Dec. 29, 2016: State official flags story about Burisma gas dumping to Yovanovitch and Kent

In December 2016, an unnamed State Department official flagged a story in the Ukrainian press and sent it to Ambassador Yovanovitch. The story included allegations that a Burisma subsidiary was selling natural gas at a “dumping price,” which effectively served as a bribe to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s inner circle. “Lots of accusations/innuendo,” the State Department official wrote to Yovanovitch. “Mentions Biden’s son and Kwasniewski are on board of Burisma, which allegedly had a subsidiary dump natural gas recently as a way to pay bribes,” the official wrote. 

March 10, 2017: Yovanovitch speaks at a Washington, D.C. event attended by Burisma board member

On March 10, 2017, the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council hosted a luncheon in Washington, D.C. with the ambassador as the keynote speaker, according to the organization’s website. The attendance list, published in the State Department’s online reading room, includes Joseph Cofer Black, a board member of Burisma and ex-CIA and State Department official. Black was appointed to Burisma’s board of directors in February of 2017, according to public reports and emails on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

April 20, 2017: Yovanovitch is photographed at an event with Vadim Pozharskyi

In April 2017, Ambassador Yovanovitch attended another meeting hosted by the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council with Burisma representative Vadim Pozharskyi, according to photos obtained by Just the News and a post on Burisma Holdings archived website. 

"We would like to convey a message to the international community that Ukraine is ready for profound economic reforms and this process is irreversible," Pozharskyi told the Ambassador and other attendees at the April 2017 meeting. "Burisma Group has already opened Ukrainian market to the US oil & gas service companies offering new opportunities and professional prospects.” 

Oct. 5, 2017: Yovanovitch warns McCain Institute about partnering with Burisma

In October 2017, a representative of the McCain Institute emailed Ambassador Yovanovitch to notify her of a program on which his organization was asked to partner with Burisma: a “Leadership Development” program for Ukrainian prosecutors funded entirely by Burisma. Sally Painter, the Blue Star Strategies executive was responsible for proposing this arrangement to the institute. 

Yovanovitch responded clearly: “I will get back to you with a fuller response, but I would urge caution in dealing with Burisma Group,” Yovanovitch wrote. “It is widely believed that the owner was the beneficiary of the corrupt justice system here,” she continued. 

Nov. 7, 2017: Yovanovitch speaks at an event and is photographed with Burisma representative Pozharskyi

Yovanovitch attended and spoke at a November 7 meeting hosted by the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council in Kyiv. The ambassador was photographed with Vadim Pozharskyi, Burisma executive and point of contact for Hunter Biden, who also participated in the event representing Burisma’s interest in Ukrainian energy production. 

Oct. 11, 2019: Yovanovitch tells impeachment investigators that she did not recall being briefed on Burisma

In her testimony before the House impeachment investigators, Ambassador Yovanovitch could not recall the briefings provided to her by Kent or other embassy staff on Burisma’s corrupt reputation.

“Once you arrived in country did the embassy staff brief you on issues relating to Burisma?” an investigator asked the ambassador.

“No, it was -- it was not I don't recall that I was briefed on that,” Yovanovitch answered.

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