With former Vice President Joe Biden as the likely Democratic opponent of President Trump in November, Trump and the Republicans will renew efforts to discredit him over the Burisma-Ukraine-Biden issue.

They will insist that Biden had a Ukraine prosecutor removed to protect Burisma, an energy company being investigated for corruption. He supposedly wanted to shield his son Hunter, a man with no apparently relevant qualifications, who was on Burisma’s board.

Trump hopes to undermine confidence in Joe Biden among American voters. Even if the charge can’t be proved but can be kept alive until November, Republicans believe it will weaken Biden. Trump previously thought the mere Ukraine announcement of a Burisma-Biden investigation could undermine Biden.

During the impeachment proceedings, there was some bipartisan agreement that Trump had tried improperly to force Ukraine to make such an announcement. But some Senate Republicans concluded that his actions, even if objectionable, were not harmful enough to merit his removal from office.

Voters will need to make their own decision, if the GOP keeps the issue alive.

Ukraine is famous for its corruption. In the Burisma case, it appeared that a government official who also owned the company directed major contracts to it. He ultimately fled the country.

The Burisma deals were investigated in Ukraine and reviewed in the U.K. Lacking good evidence, no charges were brought.

After the questionable deals had been completed, Burisma appointed Hunter Biden to its board at a substantial pay level. It seemed obvious that the company wanted to improve its image with the U.S. by having the Vice President’s son on the board.

The apparent lack of solid evidence against it, its role in the energy trade and the Biden name helped it achieve its objective. It was able to establish at least one important business relationship in the U.S.

All of this was taking place against a backdrop of efforts, sometimes half-hearted, to reduce corruption in Ukraine. Such efforts were vital to convince the U.S. and others providing financial help to the country that their aid would not drained by corrupt officials.

The chief Ukraine prosecutor was Victor Shokin. He did not pursue an investigation of the Burisma deals. He was also notoriously corrupt, leading his chief deputy to condemn him and quit. Eventually he was forced to resign after strong public protests.

As Vice President, Joe Biden had warned the Ukraine president that the U.S. would not provide a promised $1 billion in aid unless Shokin were fired. It is this action that Trump claims was motivated by Biden’s desire to protect his son from investigation.

If true, the Vice President had used his position and American public funds to cause the ouster of a man investigating his son, which would be severely damaging to the Democratic candidate.

Did Biden cause Shokin to be fired to protect his son?

Shokin was not investigating Burisma. Shokin was not investigating Hunter Biden, especially because the alleged corruption took place before he joined the board. Joe Biden acted publicly to oust Shokin (that’s how Trump knew), followed announced American policy and cooperated with other countries and international organizations.

While no father can control the actions of an adult child, Joe Biden erred in ignoring Hunter’s joining the Burisma board. It is impossible to believe that Hunter’s job was unrelated to his father’s position.

Instead of keeping hands off, the Vice President should have asked his son to resign, because his job at least appeared improper. If Hunter had refused, the Vice President should have prepared an affidavit stating that he had tried to have Hunter resign and filed it with a third party.

The Republicans will not let go of this issue, which they created, so long as it can produce a political effect. It draws attention away from Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine. It could continue for the length of the campaign.

Joe Biden alone can do something about the issue, if the GOP won’t drop it.

If there is a Senate investigation, he should cooperate with it. He needs to document the events that refute Trump’s claims and admit he erred in not trying to induce Hunter to resign. He can rightfully concede that he let his affection for his son take precedence.

He cannot look either defensive or like he is covering up. This is all the more important, because Burisma and Joe Biden himself are now being formally reviewed in Ukraine.

Only if Biden gets off the defensive, keeps after Trump’s own Ukraine gambit and takes charge of the conversation can Ukraine be kept from becoming a persistent election issue.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman. 

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