Republican Inquiry Finds No Evidence of Wrongdoing by Biden
WASHINGTON — An election-year investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, and his son, Hunter, involving Ukraine found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president, bringing to a close a highly politicized inquiry its leaders had hoped would tarnish President Trump’s rival.
The report asserted that Hunter Biden traded off his father’s name to close lucrative business deals around the world, and that his work for Burisma Holdings, a corrupt Ukrainian energy company while the former vice president was directing American policy toward Kyiv gave the appearance of a conflict of interest and alarmed some in the State Department. But the 87-page document released on Wednesday by the Senate Homeland Security Committee contained no evidence that the former vice president improperly manipulated American policy toward Ukraine or committed any other misdeed.
The panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, had made little secret of his political ambitions for his report, boasting for weeks that his findings would demonstrate Mr. Biden’s “unfitness for office.” Instead, the result delivered on Wednesday appeared to be little more than a rehashing of unproven allegations against Mr. Biden six weeks before Election Day, allegations that echo a Russian disinformation campaign and have been pushed by Mr. Trump and his allies.
In the days before its release, Mr. Johnson conceded in an interview that there would be no “massive smoking guns,” saying that there was “a misconception on the part of the public that there would be.”
Its conclusions were largely the ones Mr. Johnson and his investigative partner, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, had before they began their work with some new details from State Department and financial records. It concluded that Hunter Biden’s position “hindered the efforts of dedicated career-service individuals who were fighting for anticorruption measures in Ukraine.” It did not clarify the nature of that hindrance beyond saying that the situation was “awkward” for career State Department officials, who “were required to maintain situational awareness of Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma.”
It was also filled with details that emphasized the unseemly appearance created by the younger Mr. Biden’s involvement with Burisma, given who his father was. Section Eight of the report was entitled “HUNTER BIDEN: A SECRET SERVICE PROTECTEE WHILE ON BURISMA’S BOARD.”
“What the chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” the report said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s campaign, accused Mr. Johnson of subsidizing “a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars” by promulgating “a long-disproven, hard-core right wing conspiracy theory” about the former vice president.
He also chastised the chairman of the Senate’s leading government watchdog for consuming committee resources when his panel should have been conducting oversight “of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic.”
Republican investigators found no evidence that Mr. Biden acted inappropriately, including when he joined other nations in pushing for the ouster of Ukraine’s top prosecutor who was investigating Burisma. Mr. Trump’s pursuit of that debunked charge is what prompted his impeachment last year, after he pressured Ukraine’s leader to look into it himself.
Even before the report’s release, Mr. Johnson found himself fending off charges that he had abused his Senate powers to aid Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and in so doing, inadvertently boosted a Russian disinformation campaign that American intelligence officials have said is designed to denigrate Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden and Democrats have conceded that the optics of Hunter Biden’s position were bad, but the former vice president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and pointed to Mr. Johnson’s own support of American policy toward Ukraine to make his point.
The report’s top finding — that Hunter Biden’s presence on the Burisma board posed a challenge for American diplomats — rested heavily on the testimony of George Kent, a State Department official involved in Ukraine policy. Mr. Kent raised concerns, including with Mr. Biden’s staff, that the situation made it “very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine.”
But Mr. Kent’s statements are not new. He had a prominent role in the House’s impeachment inquiry last fall, where he detailed his concerns about Hunter Biden, but said that he “did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.”
“So there was no time, as I’ve testified, that the U.S. government, the U.S. embassy ever made a decision” about the corrupt owner of Burisma or the firm itself “where we took the presence of a private citizen on the board into account.”
Neither Mr. Biden’s campaign nor Mr. Johnson would say whether he had sought information directly from the former vice president, and an attorney for Hunter Biden did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Johnson’s investigators conducted eight witness interviews, including some as recently as last week as the report was finalized.
In an interview last week before the report’s release, Mr. Johnson said he was simply conducting the type of oversight with which his committee was tasked, and suggested that the investigation had been thrust upon him because Mr. Biden had opted to challenge Mr. Trump. The senator said that he “never thought Joe Biden should run for president,” and hinted that the former vice president had cognitive problems, a baseless attack frequently hurled by Mr. Trump.
Senate Democrats have sought to shut down the inquiry, noting that it is based on allegations that Russia has fanned about Mr. Biden and Ukraine.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, tried unsuccessfully last week to force through a resolution quashing the investigation. He noted that the United States had just imposed sanctions for election meddling on a Ukrainian lawmaker with ties to Russian intelligence, Andriy Derkach, who was peddling edited tapes purporting to show corrupt acts by Mr. Biden in Ukraine. The tapes were part of a “a covert influence campaign,” the Treasury Department said this month, bent on “spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the United States designed to culminate prior to Election Day” — like the one Mr. Johnson conducted.
“The fact that a powerful Senate Committee may have fallen victim to misinformation from Moscow,” Mr. Schumer said, “is appalling.”
Mr. Derkach claimed that he had provided information to Mr. Johnson and Mr. Grassley, though the senators said they never sought or received anything from him. (They have worked with Andrii Telizhenko, another Ukrainian, despite law enforcement officials sharing concerns with the committee that he too could be spreading Russian misinformation.)
Mr. Johnson forcefully denied that his report was based on any disinformation. But he also dismissed the contention that a claim should be off-limits because bad actors are amplifying it.
“If there is somebody in Ukraine and somebody in Russia also publicizing the fact that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden created this massive conflict of interest,” Mr. Johnson said, “is that something we are just supposed to take a hands-off attitude toward?”
Democrats were not the only ones taking issue. Last week, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, criticized Mr. Johnson for pursuing what he called a “political exercise.”
“It’s not the legitimate role of government for Congress or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents,” Mr. Romney said.