Comer digs in on questions about Biden's treatment of Ukrainian prosecutor

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is digging in on questions about President Biden’s policies and actions toward Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin while he was vice president and his son Hunter Biden was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Comer sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday that builds on unproven and refuted allegations that have circled for years in Republican circles over whether Biden’s public pressure to fire Shokin was related to his son’s work.

He requested numerous documents and communications from the State Department surrounding Ukraine and Burisma, including notes and transcripts from Biden’s calls to Ukrainian officials; mentions of lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies that worked for Burisma; mentions of Hunter Biden or his business partners; and documents and communications relating to a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine.

Much of what Comer seeks falls into territory covered by prior congressional investigations, but Comer cast his request as needing “context for certain sudden foreign policy changes.”

“The committee seeks information regarding the State Department’s perception of the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General, at the time headed by Viktor Shokin,” he wrote.

Biden, his staff, and other U.S. officials and experts have repeatedly said that Biden acted in line with U.S. policies to root out corruption in Ukraine when he conditioned a $1 billion loan guarantee in part on Shokin’s ouster.

Before Shokin became Ukraine’s Prosecutor General in February 2015, the office had opened a corruption investigation into Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky. That investigation appears to have gone dormant by the time Biden intervened.

Comer’s letter to Blinken on Tuesday alleged that the Obama-Biden administration had a “sudden change in disposition towards the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General in late 2015,” painting a picture of increased hostility toward Shokin before he was fired in early 2016.

The letter argued the timing of the alleged shift was “notable” given former Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer, who was also on Burisma’s board, telling the committee in September about Burisma executives exerting pressure in late 2015 on Hunter Biden to get help from “D.C.” on numerous legal issues the company faced.

Archer, though, testified that Shokin was not specifically on his radar as someone who was targeting Zlochevsky, and that the “narrative that was spun to me” was that Shokin’s firing would be bad for Zlochevsky and Burisma.

Shokin’s removal came after Biden, along with other world leaders at the time, was pushing to have him removed over concerns he was failing to address corruption. 

But Comer argues Biden evolved on that point, pointing to an email recapping a meeting of a task force evaluating the loan that said “​​Ukraine has made sufficient progress on its reform agenda to justify a third guarantee.”

That same October 2015 email, however, cites other requirements for addressing corruption, including a need to “better ensure that the decision to set up an independent inspector general cannot be easily overturned and that the independent inspector general is subject to appropriate oversight and accountability.”

Those requirements remained unmet months later, with former U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt writing in January 2016 that that condition for funding “has not yet been met.” That email was turned over to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as part of a Republican-led investigation conducted in 2020. 

Victoria Nuland, then the assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, also testified to the panel during the same investigation, saying they concluded “that we just didn’t think Shokin was going to clean up his act. And, again, we didn’t make this decision. This was a decision we put to the Ukrainians. If you want more money from us, you need to clean this up.”

Both Pyatt and Nuland’s correspondence are included in Comer’s request.

Neither the State Department nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. 

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