Biden’s Work in Ukraine: What We Know and Don’t Know

WASHINGTON — President Trump is trying to deflect attention from a firestorm of controversy around revelations that he pressed Ukraine’s leader to investigate a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Trump is doing so by saying the real issue is possible corrupt activity involving Ukraine by Mr. Biden, one of the leading Democratic challengers in the 2020 presidential race, and Mr. Biden’s son.

Here is what we know and do not know about the involvement of the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine.

The issue here is whether Mr. Biden used his position as vice president to help a Ukrainian energy company that was paying Hunter Biden by pushing for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor. The prosecutor’s office had oversight of investigations into the oligarch who owned the company.

As The New York Times reported this spring, no evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor’s dismissal.

In fact, some of the vice president’s former associates said he never did anything to deter other efforts to go after the oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky. Those efforts included a push by Obama administration officials for the United States to support criminal investigations by Ukrainian and British authorities, and possibly for the United States to start its own investigation, into the energy company, Burisma Holdings, and its owner, Mr. Zlochevsky, for possible money laundering and abuse of office.

The president has often been vague about the specifics of his allegations, but one detail that he and his allies have repeatedly cited is the former vice president’s threatening to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the prosecutor. Mr. Trump’s campaign on Saturday publicized footage of Mr. Biden recounting the threat.

“I said: ‘We’re leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor’s not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Mr. Biden recounted at a 2018 event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” Mr. Biden continued, in footage that was not included in the Trump campaign video.

The prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, was soon voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament.

His dismissal had been sought not just by Mr. Biden, but also by others in the Obama administration, as well other Western governments and international lenders. Mr. Shokin had been repeatedly accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his office and among the Ukrainian political elite, and criticized for failing to bring corruption cases.

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CreditCharles Dharapak/Associated Press

Hunter Biden has not been accused of legal wrongdoing related to his work for Burisma, which paid him as much as $50,000 per month in some months for his service on the board of the directors. He said in a statement this year that he never discussed Burisma with his father.

But he has been criticized by government watchdog groups in the United States and Ukraine for what they characterize as the perception of a conflict of interest, and trading on his family name by allowing it to be used to burnish the reputations of Burisma and Mr. Zlochevsky.

Starting in 2012, Mr. Zlochevsky has faced a long series of accusations of money laundering and tax evasion, as well as overseeing the awarding of lucrative gas licenses to his companies while he was the head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources under the Russia-aligned government of the former president Viktor F. Yanukovych.

When Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma, he had no experience in Ukraine. He has a professional history including a number of roles that intersected with his father’s political career. When his father represented Delaware in the Senate, Hunter Biden worked with a credit card issuer in the state. He also worked at the Commerce Department under President Bill Clinton and as a lobbyist on behalf of various universities, associations and companies.

Mr. Zlochevsky’s allies were relieved by the dismissal of Mr. Shokin, the prosecutor whose ouster Mr. Biden had sought, according to people familiar with the situation.

Mr. Shokin was not aggressively pursuing investigations into Mr. Zlochevsky or Burisma. But the oligarch’s allies say Mr. Shokin was using the threat of prosecution to try to solicit bribes from Mr. Zlochevsky and his team, and that left the oligarch’s team leery of dealing with the prosecutor.

Mr. Shokin was replaced by a prosecutor named Yuriy Lutsenko, whom former Vice President Biden later called “someone who was solid at the time.” Mr. Zlochevsky’s representatives were pleased by the choice, concluding they could work with Mr. Lutsenko to resolve the oligarch’s legal issues, according to the people familiar with the situation.

While Mr. Lutsenko initially took a hard line against Burisma, within 10 months after he took office, Burisma announced that Mr. Lutsenko and the courts had “fully closed” all “legal proceedings and pending criminal allegations” against Mr. Zlochevsky and his companies.

The oligarch, who had fled the country amid investigations by previous prosecutors, was removed by a Ukrainian court from “the wanted list,” and returned to the country.

This year, though, Mr. Lutsenko’s office moved to restart scrutiny of Mr. Zlochevsky.

The Times reported that Mr. Lutsenko had been communicating with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has become a leading voice in accusing the Bidens of corruption. And allies of Mr. Biden and Mr. Zlochevsky accuse both Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani of injecting politics into the equation.

Ukraine’s new government replaced Mr. Lutsenko last month.