The growing scandal over President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky isn’t going away. New revelations are emerging at a rapid clip and, while that isn’t good news for the president, at least for the moment it seems to be good news for Joe Biden.
After months of gaffes and serving as a target for the other Democratic candidates, Biden is currently enjoying a breather as his fellow Democratic hopefuls focus on the news du jour of President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Even though Biden is central to the Ukraine story, the attention may help him more than it hurts him by drawing attention away from other Democrats.
"Every candidate wants to be attacked by the president," Democratic strategist Ian Russell told Axios. "You want this to be a 2-person race...If you're able to get a press cycle or two of you going mano-a-mano against Trump, that's absolutely a good thing for Biden."
The Real Clear Politics average shows Biden ticking up markedly over the past week. In the average of polls, Biden is now at 30 percent and holds a double-digit lead over Elizabeth Warren, his nearest challenger.
Although President Trump is accusing Biden of corruption in his own dealings with Ukraine during the Obama Administration, there is so far no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president. Biden also stands to gain if, after all of the accusations from Trump, nothing untoward is unearthed about Biden’s actions. Trump’s accusations center on Biden’s efforts to fire the top Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
At the time, Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member of Burisma, an energy company founded by an ally of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin dictator of Ukraine who was deposed in February 2014. Biden served on the board from April 2014 through April 2019. Republicans say that Joe Biden intervened to protect his son from investigation by Shokin, who had previously investigated Burisma’s owner.
There are several problems with this theory, however. While Vice President Biden’s did create the appearance of conflict-of-interest due to Hunter’s business dealings, the Associated Press points out that the idea to fire Shokin was not Biden’s and Ukraine has denied that either Hunter Biden or Burisma were under investigation at the time of Shokin’s dismissal. Further, the Obama Administration and other Western governments, as well as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, wanted Shokin gone because he was considered too soft on corruption, not because he was too tenacious.
Even before the current scandal erupted, the new Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, denied that the Bidens were under investigation or had committed any crimes. Lutsenko told Bloomberg in May that Shokin submitted his own resignation and that the Burisma investigation was already dormant by the time he left.
“There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against [Burisma owner] Zlochevsky,” Vitaliy Kasko, a former official in the prosecutor general’s office, told Bloomberg. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
There are problems with the timeline as well. Joe Biden made his trip to Ukraine in March 2016, but Shokin had resigned a month earlier in February per the Kyiv Post. Shokin seems to have resumed work at some point and was formally dismissed by the Ukrainian parliament on March 29.
In other developments on the scandal, President Trump admitted to withholding nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine shortly before the president had his phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. The White House said that the aid was delayed to concerns about corruption. The money was ultimately released in mid-August.
Separately, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed that he was asked by the State Department to make his own trip to meet Ukrainian leaders. Giuliani met Andriy Yermak in Madrid in August 2019 and urged him to investigate the Bidens. Giuliani also claimed that a $3 million payment Hunter Biden received for serving on the board of Burisma was “money laundering.”
Giuliani also told Fox Business that “I can't tell you if it's 100%” that President Trump didn’t threaten to cut off aid to Ukraine. He added “there’s no quid pro quo” that would justify impeachment.
While the mounting scandal means that Joe Biden’s relationship with Ukraine will be closely scrutinized, the former vice president has so far benefitted from the attacks by the Trump Administration while Trump’s reputation has been further sullied and impeachment is once again on the table. It is far too early to tell whether either side will score a knockout punch with new information that seems to be breaking almost hourly. The one certainty is that the Ukraine scandal will not go away quickly and both Trump and Biden are going to remain in the spotlight.
Originally published in The Resurgent