Hunter Biden blockbuster: Memos detail quiet effort to assist indicted Ukrainian oligarch
At time, his father's administration considered Dmitri Firtash a fugitive felon.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
- had been indicted by the Obama-Biden administration
- Delaware computer repairman, who claims Hunter Biden left the device at his shop in 2019 and never picked it up
- firm that U.S. officials considered to be corrupt
- World Food Program USA
- Archer was indicted and eventually convicted
- appeals court last year upheld the conviction
- still has not been extradited to the United States
- courts of Austria
Hunter Biden and his business partner engaged in an effort to assist a fugitive Ukrainian oligarch indicted by his father's administration, an effort that briefly captured the FBI's attention and led one of the lawyers in the case to express concern that using the then-vice president's son might backfire, according to emails, text messages and interviews.
The effort by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer to assist Dmitri Firtash began in spring 2015 when they were contacted by one of the oligarch's associates, and an American lawyer for the oligarch was instructed to provide them an overview of the case, including desires to contact U.S. government officials.
Firtash, one of Ukraine's wealthiest businessmen, already had been indicted by the Obama-Biden administration more than a year earlier on corruption charges in Chicago, allegations that Firtash has long denied. Firtash was challenging extradition to the United States from Austria, where he was living, and was seeking to return to his home country of Ukraine, where the economy and security teetered after a Russian invasion of its Crimean region.
"The case is weak and ultimately, and perhaps as soon as next week, a loser. Moreover, Austria at the highest levels has zero enthusiasm for its continuation," Adam Waldman, an American lawyer for Firtash, emailed Archer on April 21, 2015 in an overview about the case. The email, entitled "6 points," was immediately forwarded to Hunter Biden by Archer.
"The only ask is that an introductory meeting be arranged in Vienna between some designee of the USG and DF," Waldman wrote, apparently referring to Firtash's hopes. "This could then lead to closer communication from him about his intentions and direction in his country."
The email chain was found on a laptop turned over to the FBI by a Delaware computer repairman, who claims Hunter Biden left the device at his shop in 2019 and never picked it up. Waldman confirmed the email's authenticity to Just the News.
By spring 2015, Hunter Biden and Archer had been involved for years in a series of businesses under the umbrellas of Rosemont Capital and Rosemont Seneca and other spinoffs. They also had developed ties in Ukraine after both had been added to the board of the natural gas giant Burisma Holdings, a firm that U.S. officials considered to be corrupt. The younger Biden's father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, oversaw Ukraine policy for the Obama administration at the time.
The emails and text messages indicate that on-and-off effort to assist Firtash stretched through the summer and fall of 2015, with discussions centering on contacting various State Department officials including then-Secretary of State John Kerry (the stepfather of Rosemont partner Christopher Heinz) and then-Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken, now America's top diplomat under President Biden.
The text messages and emails indicate that Hunter Biden's and Archer's primary contact with the Firtash camp was a former Ukrainian government official named Hares Youssef, a lifelong friend of the billionaire oligarch.
In a telephone interview Friday from Europe, Youssef confirmed he asked Hunter Biden and Archer in 2015 to try to assist Firtash and even traveled to Washington DC to meet with the then-vice president's son to discuss the issue, as well as some business opportunities.
"Dmitri Firtash has been my good friend all my life, and I thought if I could involve Hunter and ask him to help maybe we could get the matter resolved," Youssef told Just the News.
A text message between Youssef and Waldman obtained by Just the News indicates Youssef met with Hunter Biden in Washington DC on June 18, 2015. "Just finished meeting with Hunter in Washington," Youssef wrote Waldman in a text message dated that day. "We talked about you. He said very good words abut (cq) you."
Youssef, a Syrian-born emigree to Ukraine who served as a Middle East adviser to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, said the younger Biden made some inquiries and then both he and Archer reported back they could not assist Firtash.
"I asked both of them to help Dmitri. I was looking to find any solution to help my friend," Youssef explained. "Clearly I met with him [Hunter Biden] and he said he cannot do anything."
Waldman worked on Firtash's legal team in the United States and was asked to keep an occasional eye on the Biden-Archer efforts and flag any legal compliance issues, Youssef said. But he did not engage in any lobbying and expressed discomfort with some of the activities, according to the documents and interviews.
At one point, for instance, Waldman warned that Archer and Hunter Biden might trigger "FARA" – the U.S. foreign agent law – with their State Department contacts and therefore might need to register as lobbyists, according to the text messages.
George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, did not return a call or email seeking comment on Monday. Archer and his lawyer, Matthew Schwartz of the Boies Schiller Flexner, did not return a call seeking comment.
Youssef said he never paid Hunter Biden or Archer specifically for their assistance on the Firtash matter. Rather, he said, he engaged Hunter Biden and Archer for advice on his personal company, Golden Hearts, which was seeking to build a global digital currency for micro-donations.
Youssef said the younger Biden served as chairman of the World Food Program USA, a nonprofit aligned with the UN, and the two talked about how Golden Hearts' digital currency could be implemented, including creating a robust website to market and deploy it.
Eventually, Archer introduced Youssef to a friend's company called mbloom, and at Archer's request invested $3 million. "I was asking for a good company with IT, and he brought me to mbloom," Youssef said.
Youssef said the decision to invest in mbloom proved fateful: he lost most of the money he invested when the company shuttered in spring 2016 after Archer was indicted and eventually convicted of defrauding a Native American tribe. An appeals court last year upheld the conviction.
Youssef said he only recovered $277,000 of the money and believes he will never recover the rest. "It is probably gone," he told Just the News.
Text messages indicate a large number of heavy-hitting American lawyers were assisting Firtash's efforts to fight the indictment and extradition, including Waldman, former Bill Clinton counsel Lanny Davis, former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Chicago U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.
Hunter Biden's and Archer's effort were kept separate and distinct, with several texts suggesting they might be handled by the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, where Hunter Biden worked part time, or by Archer directly.
"When we met with DF and Devon, we agreed the communication way with Webb," Youssef texted Waldman at one point, apparently referring to efforts to bring Webb, the lead criminal defense attorney, into the loop.
Webb did not return multiple email messages seeking comment.
Occasionally, Youssef would text Waldman with an update on the efforts to reach U.S. officials, including Kerry, Blinken and former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who oversaw Ukraine policy at the State Department.
"Devon will talk directly to J. Kerry about the business interest in Ukraine energy strategy," Youssef texted Waldman in September 2015. Another text that day referred to an intermediary "having lunch" with Nuland where "he will ask her directly if there are any changes about DF."
Waldman's text messages suggest he was not that familiar with Hunter Biden, apparently even unaware the younger Biden was a lawyer, and that Waldman was generally disengaged in the efforts to contact State. But Waldman raised concerns with Youssef on Sept. 15, 2015, that continuing to use Hunter Biden and his business associate, Archer, to contact State officials might boomerang.
"Second thought, I remain concerned that this relationship with sons of leaders firm could become public and strongly recommend caution," Waldman wrote Youssef, questioning whether Archer, Hunter Biden or others involved in the U.S. contacts needed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Waldman also raised concern to Youssef that Hunter Biden might not be working with Firtash in his capacity as a lawyer -- and Archer wasn't a lawyer -- eliminating potential attorney-client privilege, the text messages show.
In written answers to questions from Just the News, Waldman said he could not discuss aspects of his representation of Firtash because of attorney-client privilege but confirmed Youssef's account that Hunter Biden and Archer had made efforts to contact the State Department for a period of time in 2015.
Waldman said while he had occasional contacts with Youssef and Archer, he had never communicated with Hunter Biden, though his name came up during discussions.
Archer "told me from time to time that he was having or planning to have meetings with senior State Department officials including Secretary Kerry and with Vice President Joe Biden," Waldman said. "…I recall that he mentioned specifically that his associate, whom I understood to be Hunter Biden, was meeting with Tony Blinken."
Documents obtained by Just the News under the Freedom of Information Act show that Hunter Biden arranged to have a luncheon meeting at the State Department with Blinken on July 22, 2015, though they do not indicate the topic of the meeting.
Hunter Biden had requested the meeting back a couple of months earlier. "I know you are impossibly busy, but would like to get your advice on a couple of things," Hunter Biden wrote Blinken on May 22, 2015.
In private Senate testimony last year, Blinken said the July 2015 meeting was his only one at State with Hunter Biden and the two talked about the loss of Hunter Biden's older brother Beau to cancer. "We talked about his brother, about the effect the passing of his brother was having on the family, the effect it was having on then Vice President Biden," Blinken said. "It was all about the loss the family had suffered and how they were coping with it."
Waldman said he cautioned Youssef that Hunter Biden's and Archer's involvement in the Firtash matter might trigger foreign lobbying laws in the United States and require "necessary public disclosure filings" and that he was suspicious that Hunter Biden or Archer could change State's position on Firtash's indictment.
"What I learned was that the USG's position had not changed towards my client, as some were claiming," Waldman said.
Waldman said at some point the flurry of activity by various teams on the case caught the attention of the FBI. He said he coordinated a response with Webb, Firtash's lead lawyer in the criminal case, and answered agents' questions about roles and responsibilities in the case.
Nearly seven years after Firtash's indictment, the Ukrainian oligarch still has not been extradited to the United States to face trial, a delay that has spanned three American presidencies and raised serious concerns in the courts of Austria and Spain about the U.S. evidence and possible political influence in the criminal process.
The charges allege bribery involving a titanium mine in India – which Firtash denies and which don’t have a direct nexus to any U.S. activity.