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Fact-checkers revise narrative on Biden’s role in firing Ukraine prosecutor as new evidence emerges

Washington Post now cites State Department documents recently made public by Just the News, concedes Biden may have called "audible" in threatening to withhold loan guarantee to force firing of Viktor Shokin.

Published: September 15, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: September 19, 2023 12:52pm

Four years after the Hunter Biden scandal first burst into the limelight, news media fact-checkers are still revising their narratives. Once declarative in their findings, the latest fact checks have begun to hedge and equivocate in the face of contradictory evidence uncovered by Congress and open-records litigation.

The freshest example surfaced Friday when The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler updated his reporting on how Joe Biden as vice president came to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees in late 2015 to force the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor whose office was investigating the Burisma Holdings energy firm that employed Hunter Biden.

Citing documents uncovered by Just the News, Kessler admitted for the first time that Joe Biden may have “called an audible,” or changed the plan, on the firing of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin on his way to Kyiv aboard Air Force Two in December 2015.

This month, Just the News reported newly uncovered State Department and European Union documents, both of which indicated that Ukraine had made adequate progress in its anti-corruption reforms, including within its Prosecutor General’s Office. “Ukraine has made sufficient progress on its reform agenda to justify a third [loan] guarantee” and “the anti-corruption benchmark is deemed to have been achieved,” the State Department Interagency Policy Committee and the EU European Commission confirmed, respectively.

These findings call into question one of the central tenets of the fact-checkers’ assertion dating back four years ago: that then-Vice President Biden went to Kyiv to carry out the established policy of the U.S. government and international organizations, didn’t have a deciding role in its formulation and most notably, had nothing to do with Shokin's ongoing investigation of Burisma, the energy company with which the Bidens were deeply intertwined.

Kessler – lead fact-checker at the Post – at one time said that Biden was simply carrying out U.S. policy developed by the State Department and the European Union and “operated independently of his son’s efforts to engage a PR firm to burnish Zlochevsky’s image.” Therefore, the Bidens could not be implicated in any bribery or influence scheme, as some Republicans have alleged.

Now, acknowledging the importance and authenticity of new documents and questions into the Biden family’s alleged influence peddling scheme, The Washington Post has given more context to the Shokin firing. In Kessler’s most recent piece he concluded through interviews with former Obama administration officials that then-Vice President Biden “called an audible – or changed the plan – to link Viktor Shokin’s firing with the $1 billion loan guarantee while he was aboard Air Force Two on his way to Kyiv.

“There was agreement [in the administration] that Shokin had to go,” an official who was traveling with Biden on his way to Kyiv told The Washington Post. That official specifically recalled a decision by Biden to change course, according to Kessler. “The only disagreement was on tactics,” the official told Kessler. “Biden came in hard, but that was consistent with the goal of U.S. policy.”

According to Kessler, the White House did not dispute this reporting. “As the facts have borne out for years, then-Vice President Biden successfully executed on U.S. policy that was supported by Republicans in Congress at home, international partners abroad, and Ukrainian citizens, as he worked to carry out policy in the best interests of the American people,” a spokesperson from the White House Counsel’s office told the Post.

This means Biden made a last-minute decision to link the firing of Shokin – who was investigating Burisma – to the $1 billion loan guarantee. It was the administration’s intent to leave the Shokin issue as a separate matter, providing the guarantee while simultaneously asking for Shokin to be removed, according to Kessler’s interviews with administration sources.

This is a pivotal piece of information previously ignored by Biden-supporting media. As Just the News recently reported, at the time Joe Biden traveled to Kyiv, Hunter Biden and Burisma were scrambling to deal with the fallout of media inquiries into Hunter’s role on the board of the company. Mykola Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, was also under scrutiny by Ukrainian and foreign authorities for alleged corruption under the previous regime.

Hunter Biden helped Burisma retain Blue Star Strategies – a Democrat connected government relations firm – to improve Burisma’s public image in Ukraine and with U.S. officials at the embassy in Kyiv. At the time the contract with the firm was being negotiated, Burisma official Vadim Pozharskyi wrote to Hunter Biden that Blue Star’s work was for the “ultimate purpose to close down for [sic] any cases/pursuits against Nikolay [Mykola Zlochevsky] in Ukraine.”

[Re Revised Burisma Proposal Contract and Invoice]

Devon Archer, a former Hunter Biden associate and Burisma board member who began cooperating with Congress this year, would later confirm in an interview with Tucker Carlson on X that Burisma perceived Shokin as a threat. “He was a threat. He ended up seizing assets of [Burisma owner] Nikolai [Zlochevsky] — a house, some cars, a couple properties. And Nikolai actually never went back to Ukraine after Shokin seized all of his assets,” Archer told Carlson.

Archer also testified to Congress that in December 2015, Zlochevsky and Pozharskyi requested that Hunter Biden “call D.C.” during a board meeting in Dubai because of the pressure that was being exerted on Burisma by Ukrainian authorities. “What did Hunter Biden do after he was given that request?” a congressional investigator asked Archer.

Archer replied: “Listen, I did not hear this phone call, but he – he called his dad.” Archer claimed that Pozharskyi later told him Hunter Biden had called his father. The Burisma executives requested this call just days before Vice President Biden left for Kyiv and subsequently decided on the plane to make Shokin’s firing a prerequisite to the loan guarantee.

Kessler's new column follows a pattern of several fact-checkers at major news media outlets. For instance:

  • In August, Kessler at the Post republished an article he first wrote in 2021 -- this time with updates -- that downplayed the significance of a confirmed dinner meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma executive Vadim Pozharskyi. Kessler dismissed the event saying that “there was less to the story than one might imagine.” Kessler relied solely on the Biden administration’s handouts of the Vice President’s schedule and accounts from other dinner attendees to claim that Joe Biden didn’t speak with Hunter’s business partners. His reporting was later contradicted by Devon Archer’s testimony before Congress where he said that the Vice President participated in the “table of conversation.”
  • In the months leading up to the 2020 election, numerous outlets reported that evidence from Hunter Biden’s laptop reported by the New York Post was “Russian disinformation.” Politico was the first to report that the “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.” It quoted an open letter signed by 51 former intelligence officials who claimed that the release of Hunter’s laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” According to the testimony of IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, the FBI verified the contents of the Biden laptop in October of 2019. According to Congressional testimony, Antony Blinken—Biden’s Secretary of State—played a role in creating the letter. Other news organizations -- particularly those with an interest in running cover for the Bidens, like The New York Times -- finally admitted that the laptop abandoned by the crack-addled son of the president was in fact, genuine. 
  • In April 2022, Kessler claimed that when Russian Oligarch Yelena Baturina sent $3.5 million to an entity connected to Hunter Biden’s businesses that there was “no evidence that Hunter Biden was part of those transactions.” In addition to a Hunter Biden business being involved, emails obtained from the now-authenticated Biden laptop show that he requested information on the deal his partner Devon Archer was negotiating with Baturina, Just the News reported. "Any news on this?" Hunter Biden emailed his partner Devon Archer on April 13, 2014, seeking an update on a real estate deal in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Weeks later, Baturina would dine with the Vice President and his son Hunter at the Café Milano in Washington D.C.
  • Before the 2020 presidential election, the FBI warned Twitter about “hack-and-leak operations’’ by “state actors” involving Hunter Biden, according to the New York Post. Immediately after this warning, Twitter and others censored the New York Post story published on October 12, 2020, breaking the story that Hunter Biden introduced his Ukrainian partner, Vadim Pozharskyi, to his father. The FBI had verified the laptop’s contents as long as a year before, according to IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, in 2019. The FBI also warned Facebook, which in turn did not completely ban sharing of the article, but instead limited how much its algorithm automatically shared it to other people for a week, while third-party fact-checkers tried to verify the reporting.

In an interview with the BBC, when asked if Zuckerberg regretted suppressing the factual story, the Facebook founder replied: "It sucks... I think in the same way that having to go though a criminal trial but being proven innocent in the end sucks... in the end you're free."

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