He Who Must Not Be Named: How Hunter Biden Became A Conversation Stopper

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the media treatment of the Hunter Biden controversy in Ukraine. I continue to marvel at the non sequitur in the mantra that there is “no evidence of wrongdoing” in the contract. What does that mean? Is the sole measure whether the Ukrainians (or even the U.S.) would prosecute a contract as a crime? Wrongdoing would seem to cover any form of corruption or influence peddling — whether or not it constitutes a crime. The fact is that the payment of sweetheart deals to the spouses and siblings is common in both the Ukraine and the United States. Does that make it right? The suggestion is that there is nothing wrong with this contract. Wrongdoing would seemingly include ethical violations and not just what Ukraine would prosecute as a crime (a curious standard for one of the most corrupt countries on Earth). Indeed, many of us have criticized Trump for sometimes suggesting that the criminal code as the measure of presidential conduct. With Biden, Democrats seem to be doing the same thing in dismissing any objections since “it is all perfectly legal.” If that is the case, then most of the criticism of Trump’s conduct can be dismissed as devoid of “evidence of wrongdoing.”

The fact is that there is a great deal wrong with this contract and no one has actually put forward evidence to suggest that the Ukrainians seriously selected Hunter Biden for his energy or business experience. What is left is a raw effort to curry favor with his father with an unjustified and lucrative contract.

Here is the column:

Hunter Biden: The mere mention of his name seemingly triggers the vapors among cable TV hosts and their guests.

When President Trump turned to the Bidens and Ukraine in a speech, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace cut off the coverage, declaring she had to protect the listeners: “We hate to do this, really, but the president isn’t telling the truth.” When Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) tried to answer a question about the Ukraine scandal by referencing the Bidens, “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd angrily told him not to “gaslight” the nation.

The Bidens, simply, are not what well-bred people discuss in polite company, apparently. Indeed, many journalists seem to be channeling not Edward R. Murrow, the fabled CBS newscaster, but Florence Hartley, the author of “The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness” in 1872. Hartley warned her readers to “avoid, at all times, mentioning subjects or incidents that can in any way disgust your hearers.”

For news shows on MSNBC, CNN and other cable networks, nothing is more disgusting than the mention of what Hunter Biden actually was doing in Ukraine.

For those brave enough to read on, I wish to dispense with one threshold issue: I was critical of claims over the last three years of “proven” crimes and impeachable offenses in the Russia investigation. However, the first day that Trump’s Ukraine call was disclosed, I stated that — if a quid pro quo were proved — the alleged self-dealing with military aid would be an impeachable offense. My point: Raising concerns over Hunter Biden does not mean you are excusing Trump’s actions.

What is most remarkable about the paucity of coverage of Hunter Biden’s dealings is the conclusory mantra that “this has all been investigated.” Many TV hosts prefer to focus on President Trump’s dubious claim that former Vice President Joe Biden forced the firing of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor to protect his son. I, too, fail to see compelling evidence to support Trump’s charge.

There is, however, that other problem of Hunter Biden landing a windfall contract with one of Ukraine’s most corrupt figures after his father took charge of potentially billions in U.S. loans and aid for Ukraine. That is what no one seems to want to discuss.

Indeed, the Biden campaign has been remarkably open in demanding that news organizations stop airing interviews or publishing articles about the allegations. Instead of calling it “fake news” (which is virtually copyrighted by Trump), the Biden campaign calls such coverage “conspiracy theories.”

Thus, the campaign wrote to various networks, demanding that they stop airing interviews on the scandal with figures such as Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Kate Bedingfield, deputy manager of the Biden campaign, also denounced The New York Times for publishing an op-ed by author Peter Schweizer on the controversy. The campaign apparently expected the Times and the networks to fall in line and bar others from even expressing a view.

Most recently, the campaign fired off letters to Facebook, Twitter and Google, demanding that they take down Trump ads referencing the Hunter Biden contracts. This normally would be viewed as unbridled hubris and arrogance — except that many TV news hosts are doing precisely what the campaign has demanded.

When Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) raised the issue on CNN, host Erin Burnett cut him off: “There is no evidence of Joe Biden doing anything wrong, and this is something that has been looked into, and I think — I want to make a point here — I think what we need to talk about right now is what did the president right now do or not do.” Other CNN hosts have repeated the line of “no evidence of wrongdoing” like a virtual incantation.

Whether the energy company involved with Hunter Biden was fully investigated by Ukraine is hardly a measure of culpability. Ukraine is widely considered one of the more corrupt places on Earth, where paying the children and spouses of powerful people is routine. Indeed, it is quite common in this country, too — and I’ve criticized that practice for more than 30 years in Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

Yet Ukraine was a virtual gold rush for Washington’s elite. Paul Manafort made millions working for Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s corrupt former president. Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig and his law firm tapped into Yanukovych, too. Tony Podesta, Democratic powerbroker and brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman, were implicated in Ukraine dealings.

Hunter Biden’s quest for Ukrainian gold took him to one of Yanukovych’s most controversial and corrupt associates, Mykola Zlochevsky, who leveraged his post as minister of ecology and natural resources to build a fortune. Before fleeing Ukraine, Zlochevsky paid Hunter Biden and several other Americans to be directors of his energy company, Burisma Holdings. Hunter Biden had no experience in the field — but he did have a notable connection to the vice president, who publicly has bragged about making clear to the Ukrainians that he alone controlled U.S. aid to the country. A stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry also was asked to serve as a director but reportedly declined and warned Hunter Biden not to do it; Biden didn’t listen. He later told The New Yorker that “the decisions that I made were the right decisions for my family and for me.”

His decisions certainly were profitable, but they were not “right” as an ethical matter for himself or his father.

Joe Biden has insisted he never spoke with his son about his foreign dealings — an incredible but categorical statement. The then-vice president flew with his son on Air Force Two on an official trip to China but suggests they never discussed his son’s deal seeking $1.5 billion in investments with the state-backed Bank of China. During the trip, Hunter reportedly introduced his father to Chinese private equity executive Jonathan Li, who was part of that deal. Yet Biden insists he was never told of any business linkage or dealings.

If true, Biden was, at a minimum, willfully blind not to ask his son about potential conflicts or controversies. But it does not appear to be true, at least in part — because Hunter Biden has said he informed his father about the Ukraine deal.

All of this should be of some interest to the media, which has exhaustively — and rightfully — pursued foreign deals by the Trump family. And there is no reason why the media cannot pursue allegations against both the Trumps and the Bidens.

That, however, would counter the narrative that there’s “nothing wrong” with Hunter Biden’s dealings and that it’s all a “lie” that’s best to ignore. As Hartley explained in 1872, good manners dictate that you “never attempt to disparage an absent friend. It is the height of meanness.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and previously represented the House of Representatives and also served as the last lead defense counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

33 thoughts on “He Who Must Not Be Named: How Hunter Biden Became A Conversation Stopper”

  1. Excellent article on the Biden situation. Despite the facts, the media simply dismisses all claims as “conspiracy theories” or “Russian disinformation”.

    The point is the issues surrounding Biden-Ukraine have never been fully investigated and, logically and as a consequence, a conclusion can not be reached one way or another. As Turley correctly posits, there is, at a minimum, an appearance of impropriety here which can not be conveniently dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” or if there is indeed evidence of “Russian disinformation”, it is incumbent upon the media to present it.

    The only issue I have with the article is Turley’s assertion that Trump’s claim of Biden forcing the firing of the Ukrainian chief prosecutor is “dubious”. This is an incorrect framing of the issue as Biden’s role in the matter has never been investigated. Consequently, whether or not Trump’s claim is dubious is a matter of conjecture.

    What we do know is the following set of facts and assertions:

    1) Hunter Biden was selected to be a board member of Burisma with no relevant experience and was allegedly compensated at a rate of $600,000 to $1,000,000 per annum.

    2) It was publicly known that Burisma was under investigation at the time of the prosecutor’s dismissal which was precipitated by Biden’s withholding of $1B in American aid that was coupled with the explicit demand that the prosecutor be terminated. Whether or not this investigation was active or dormant at the time of Biden’s actions in 2016 is a matter of controversy.

    3) Whether or not Hunter Biden had a role in the corruption allegations against Burisma and/or was scheduled to be interviewed as a part of the Burisma investigation is a matter of dispute and unknown.

    4) It is alleged by the EU and others that the prosecutor’s dismissal was prompted by corruption and/or a willful lack of progress on the Burisma case among others. This allegation is apparently contradicted by evidence that suggests that this is based on false information.

    5) The fired prosecutor has sworn in an affadavit that the Burisma investigation was active and that he was fired because of this as a result of Biden’s pressure. Naturally, his prosecutorial successor has asserted exactly the opposite.

    6) In 2017, the Burisma case was closed by a Ukrainian court citing a lack of evidence. However, Burisma agrees to pay a substantial fine relating to tax evasion. This decision is disputed by Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and is cited as an example of corruption in and of itself.

    What should be obvious from the above is that Hunter Biden should never have accepted this position with his father in charge of US-Ukrainian policy–a decision that simply reflects poorly on the judgement of Biden and the Obama administration.

    What should also be obvious is that this is a muddled picture that is neither conclusive nor dubious and certainly not a conspiracy theory. At the end of the day, Joe Biden’s role and intent can best be described as a known unknown.

  2. The Bidens Concede

    Do CNN and NBC still want to defend the family business model?

    James Freeman

    Last week this column noted that former Vice President Joe Biden once again declined to offer a defense of his family’s business model even in an op-ed ostensibly responding to attacks on this model. Over the weekend, his son Hunter Biden quit another of the overseas engagements for which he seemed eminently unqualified.

    The Journal’s Ken Thomas and Thomas Grove noted on Sunday:

    Hunter Biden is stepping down from a director’s position at a Chinese private-equity firm and said he wouldn’t serve on any foreign boards if his father, Joe Biden, is elected president, lowering his controversial business profile as it becomes embroiled in the 2020 election and Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Trump.

    …The former vice president’s son, 49 years old, served on the board of Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings Ltd. while his father oversaw U.S. policy on Ukraine as vice president. Hunter Biden stepped down from the Burisma board in April. The younger Biden remained a director of BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Co., a Chinese investment firm, where Mr. Trump also alleges inappropriate conduct by the Bidens. Hunter Biden said Sunday he would remove himself from the firm’s board on Oct. 31.

    The statement released through Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, described his work for Burisma, saying “at no time has any law enforcement agency, either domestic or foreign, alleged that Hunter engaged in wrongdoing at any point during his five-year term.”
    This is the Bill Clinton standard—that any conduct not deemed illegal in a foreign jurisdiction is fair game for those with U.S. political juice.

    Today the Journal’s Mr. Thomas reports from Washington:

    Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released a series of ethics proposals Monday, looking to spotlight concerns about President Trump’s record while also addressing criticism about his son’s business dealings.

    …Hunter Biden is sitting for an interview with ABC News that will air Tuesday, which will mark his first televised comments on the matter.

    If Hunter Biden can come up with a good explanation for ABC of what he was doing in overseas locales where his father was leading U.S. policy, perhaps he can also share it with his longtime partners. Cissy Zhou and Jun Mai report today in the South China Morning Post:

    BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company has grabbed global media attention for its links with Hunter Biden, the son of former United States vice-president Joe Biden, after US President Donald Trump fired a barrage of corruption allegations at him and requested China investigate the Bidens’ financial activities in the country.

    The company has repeatedly declined to elaborate on the younger Biden’s role at the firm when contacted by the South China Morning Post via phone, mail and visits to the office. But Jonathan Li Xiangsheng, the firm’s chief executive and Hunter Biden’s partner, has said the company was working on an explanation about the American’s role.

    Li refused to comment on the younger Biden when reached by the Post on Monday.

    A recent visit to the firm’s registered address in Beijing found a small, plainly decorated office, where a receptionist said she had never seen Hunter Biden.

    More than five years after going into business with Hunter Biden, his associates in China are still “working on an explanation” of his role there? If this doesn’t arouse the curiosity of a neutral journalist, it’s hard to imagine what would. But the reaction of much of the American media perhaps tells us how rare such journalists have become.

    In a Saturday op-ed entitled, “He who must not be named,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley noted a widespread media urge to simply suppress the story:

    Hunter Biden: The mere mention of his name seemingly triggers the vapors among cable TV hosts and their guests.

    When President Trump turned to the Bidens and Ukraine in a speech, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace cut off the coverage, declaring she had to protect the listeners: “We hate to do this, really, but the president isn’t telling the truth.” When Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) tried to answer a question about the Ukraine scandal by referencing the Bidens, “Meet the Press” host
    Chuck Todd angrily told him not to “gaslight” the nation.

    …What is most remarkable about the paucity of coverage of Hunter Biden’s dealings is the conclusory mantra that “this has all been investigated.”

    …When Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) raised the issue on CNN, host Erin Burnett cut him off: “There is no evidence of Joe Biden doing anything wrong, and this is something that has been looked into, and I think — I want to make a point here — I think what we need to talk about right now is what did the president right now do or not do.” Other CNN hosts have repeated the line of “no evidence of wrongdoing” like a virtual incantation.

    Instead of a near-religious repetition of a Biden defense, perhaps staff at CNN and NBC could try to get an answer to a simple question: What did Hunter Biden’s overseas associates think they were paying for?

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bidens-concede-11571078740

    1. hysterical and pathetic

      —-

      https://twitter.com/MSBattey/status/1183245667545669637

      James Taranto

      @jamestaranto

      James Taranto Retweeted Meet the Press
      I wonder how long it will take these guys to figure out that making an announcement that you are suppressing the news defeats the purpose of suppression.
      James Taranto added,

      Meet the Press

      @MeetThePress
      WATCH: The president held a campaign rally last night and attacked Hunter Biden. We cannot in good conscience show it to you

      Michael Battey

      @MSBattey

      Replying to @jamestaranto
      The urge to virtue signal overwhelmed their urge to suppress.

      9:58 PM – 12 Oct 2019

  3. Someone asked “Where’s Hunter?” Well, if you saw the Hunter Biden makeover in his ABC interview today, it’s kinda hard to miss the mouthful of pearly white high beams Hunter got. Just like his dad’s. Only his dad didn’t have yellowed crackhead teeth to fix up, right Hunter?

  4. Whether or not Hunter Biden, or anyone else, should be permitted to be appointed to a position primarily as a result of his political connections is a legitimate policy question. There are many established political channels to hash this out. However, the only real ethical question implicated here is whether or not Hunter Biden actually influenced policy decision-makers as a result of those connections. As far as I’m aware, there is no evidence at all that this occurred – or even that he attempted to do so.

    Either way, the attention is on the legal question since governments cannot “investigate” perceived moral lapses – only legal ones.

    1. oh governments “investigate” whatever they want when it comes to intelligence operations

      and counter intelligence operations are the same deal

      and there are so many laws out there, usually, they can find something to hang their hat on.

      this is sauce for the goose and the gander too

  5. The explanations are the amount of “Huuh Who?’ Other than violating through misprision of office the anti emoluments laws it’s just another example of the left doing what they always do as part of the socialist triumverate of Statists, Corporatists and Union leaders and other assorted Seig Heilers we serve the party types in one form or another. yet another reason to vote NO to anything or anybody where the voting line ends with or is indicated as D or S.

  6. This entire Hunter Biden flap is the most-obvious and successful example of Kellyanne Pivoting. Trump gets caught with his drawers down around his ankles, soliciting “a favor” in the form of campaign assistance from the president of a foreign government after delaying military aid approved by Congress, which is a crime* but it’s all suddenly about Hunter Biden. Hunter is NOT running for office, but his father was leading in the polls. His father hasn’t been in office for 3 years, so besides the fact that polls show Biden beating Trump, why is this suddenly newsworthy? In fact, he was already investigated. Whatever he did or failed to do is irrelevant to the clear and present danger posed by Trump being in the White House. People are actually dying as we speak because of Trump. AND, if you want to talk about shady connections of children of politicians, how about Ivanka and Jared, Don, Jr. and Eric? Let’s start with them. That’s far more current and relevant.

    *mere solicitation of such assistance is, per se, a crime. There need be no “quid pro quo”, so the fake mantra: “no quid pro quo” is just as misleading and untrue as “no collusion…no obstruction.”

    1. Why is this newsworthy? Because Hunter’s daddy is running for president. All of it is newsworthy and should be run down by journalists. And it would be, IF we had any journos that were not in the tank for Democrats.

    2. Summary of ABC’s interview with Hunter Biden.

      ABC … “Hunter, is it true that you and your father have done absolutely nothing wrong – and everything is Trump’s fault?”

      Hunter …”Yes.”

      the end.

  7. HOUSE HEARS TODAY FROM..

    TRUMP’S FORMER RUSSIA ADVISER

    House investigators are hearing testimony Monday from Fiona Hill, the former White House adviser on Russia, who is appearing in private and faces questions as part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

    Hill, 53, a British-born American foreign affairs expert, resigned as Trump’s top Russia analyst just days before the president’s controversial July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, an exchange that sparked the impeachment inquiry now consuming three House committees. In a tweet Monday morning, Hill’s lawyer said she is appearing after receiving a congressional subpoena.

    Hill, who declined to elaborate on her planned testimony, is expected to discuss concerns she raised over the ouster of longtime diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, whose removal as the ambassador of Ukraine has become a key topic in the impeachment inquiry. She is also likely to speak about how, in her view, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, were operating a Ukraine policy outside of the National Security Council.

    “She will certainly explain that the channel that was apparently open by Ambassador Sondland and Rudy Giuliani, these were things that were going on outside the purview of the National Security Council,” said Angela Stent, the director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

    Last week, two Florida businessmen who assisted Giuliani in the quest to look into the Bidens’ activity in Ukraine were arrested on federal campaign finance violations unrelated to the impeachment inquiry.

    Prosecutors in charging documents say the two men were working to remove Yavonovitch “at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” That campaign to recall the envoy troubled Hill, who is expected to tell House investigators that she openly questioned the decision to recall the seasoned foreign service official.

    Hill generally supported Trump’s attempts of engaging with Russia, but she did not do so without reproach. A staunch critic of Vladimir Putin, Hill wrote in a Vox piece just months before her appointment to the National Security Council that the Russian president excels at probing “people’s vulnerabilities.” “In other words, blackmail and intimidation are part of his stock in trade.”

    At the time she wrote that, Hill was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. While she has been critical of Putin, she has also disapproved of other Russian leaders, saying her perspective is informed by decades of studying the politics and culture of the country, not a political agenda.

    When Hill took the White House job, it shocked national security insiders, since she was considered far from a Trump lackey, according to a profile of Hill in Politico last month.

    Edited from: “Trump’s Former Russia Advisor Testifies As Part Of Impeachment Inquiry”

    Today’s NPR

    1. i missed that one. but i was listinging to studio 1a earlier which was all about the usual themes “ban racist white people from twitter” or “ban trump from facebook” or something like that

  8. Biden Looks Bad

    But Trump Looks So Much Worse

    Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine are a terrible reflection on Joe Biden. Congress should pass anti-nepotism laws to make sure families of American officials can’t just cash-in by relation. But Donald Trump is the worst possible messenger for this cause. A president who names his daughter and son-in-law as White House Senior Advisors cannot be taken seriously when he expresses concern about nepotism.

    Regarding the column above, Professor Turley conveys the false impression that the mainstream media has ignored Hunter Biden. My sources have given plenty of coverage to Hunter Biden. Few Americans had even heard of Hunter Biden until this Ukraine story broke. Hunter’s name is now better known than he or his father would like.

    But Professor Turley fails to mention that Trump and his defenders have been stoking a misinformation machine regarding the Ukraine scandal. They have used every opportunity to put out false talking points regarding Hunter Biden. Therefore the media has become quite determined ‘not’ to let Trump defenders complicate this story with ‘What Abouts’ and red herrings.

    Trump himself was pursuing urban legend in his call to Zelenksy. Trump had been told repeatedly by intelligence officials that Ukraine had nothing to do with hacking the DNC emails. Nor did Ukraine have possession of Hillary’s server! These urban legends may have come from Alex Jones, or someone on that level. Yet here was the U.S. president pursuing urban legends with another world leader.

    As bad as Joe Biden looks in this scandal, Donald Trump looks so much worse. One needn’t be too cynical to think Trump was acting on Putin’s behalf by holding up military aid to Ukraine. In fact, Trump’s rash decision to let Turkey invade northern Syria was quite possibly made on Putin’s behalf. The Kurds have been forced to make an alliance with Assad which is precisely what Russia desired.

        1. “…Hunter went into the service of his country,…”

          – NUTCHACHA
          ____________

          Hunter Biden – U.S. Navy Reserve

          In May 2013, Biden was selected as a direct commission officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, receiving an age-related waiver and a second waiver due to a past drug-related incident.[18] Joe Biden administered the commissioning oath to Hunter Biden in a White House ceremony.[4]

          The following month, Biden tested positive for cocaine during a urinalysis test and was subsequently discharged.[19] According to Biden, he had unwittingly consumed the cocaine after being given cigarettes he believed were surreptitiously laced with the drug.[4] He chose not to appeal the matter as it was unlikely that the panel would believe his explanation given his history with drugs, and also due to the likelihood of news leaking to the press, though it was ultimately revealed to The Wall Street Journal by a Navy official who provided information to the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

          – Wiki

        2. “At least Hunter went into the service of his country….”

          Yeah at like 38 years old…for like only a month….and was a dishonorably discharged crackhead….then he went into “the service of” foreign investors who were corrupt oligarchs in corrupt foreign businesses in corrupt countries….where daddy was point person on policy.

          Really impressive. Not.

          1. He was 44 years old and received two waivers in order to get that direct commission. He was canned after his 1st drill because he couldn’t keep off the nose candy for the 72 hours it takes to wash out of your system.

  9. apparently, no one, at least not in DC or government, cares about the nepotism, influence peddling of the children of public officials. After all, those same public officials would need to write the bill to curtail this.

  10. We have a President who has seemingly sold his soul to every dictator we can name and is now renting out our military to the Saudis and we are focusing on Hunter Biden? That is not to say that he should get a free pass BUT is this really the biggest issue or is it a carefully crafted distraction. Ok let’s investigate Hunter, Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr. and the rest. Let’s look at the Trump hotels and the special pass Ivanka got From China re her “patents” and the special treatment her products got. Yea, let’s do it al but I doubt we will because it’s all about Hunter. I wonder why?

    It’s amazing to see TRUMP of all people talking about corruption as he sells out the Kurds for a tower in Istanbul.

      1. Kurtz, unlike your post, Holmes’s is substantive. Why bother even posting if you have no point or counterpoint?

        1. Ha! Said the commenter who replies with ‘substantive’ points and counterpoints like, “GFY” and “shut up mf’er.” Yeah. Keep on truckin’ Anon1.

          1. GFY you SMF. I’m sorry you failed to note the affectionate back and forth Canuck and I welcomed each other with. He started it.

  11. Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks. That is all the commentary that is needed as far as biden and his son’s enrichments are concerned

Leave a Reply to Mr Kurtz Cancel reply