If, as expected, the House impeaches President Donald Trump on the basis of the Ukrainian controversy, the contract of Hunter Biden with the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, will likely be a focus of the defense. That has made some members uneasy since the $50,000 paid every month to Biden is widely viewed as a classic scheme to influence his father, who was the key official in charge of Ukrainian aid and assistance. For that reason, the defense of the Bidens by Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) on CNN’s “State of The Union” drew many Beltway insiders. Murphy however may have highlighted the problem with the omission of a single word.
I have previously criticized the Biden contract as a glaring example of influence peddling. I have written for decades about this common practice where companies give windfall contracts or payments to the children of powerful U.S. politicians to evade bribery and corruption statutes. The Burisma contract was as flagrant an example of such corruption as you can possibly get.
So when Murphy was asked about the contract, many of us leaned forward to hear how Democrats might thread this needle. His response was telling for what it did not say:
“Well, I think in an interview Hunter Biden, himself, admitted that he had possibly made a mistake.But let’s be clear, Hunter Biden didn’t do anything illegal and his father, the vice president, didn’t do anything illegal or unethical.”
There was no follow up on the glaring omission of the word “unethical” with reference to Hunter Biden. Thus, for Joe Biden, Sen. Murphy insisted that everything he did was legal and ethical. For Hunter Biden, he only said it was legal. It is indeed legal . . . and corrupt. Such positions for spouses and children is the main way companies can still enrich politicians and buy influence. Members of both parties have benefitted from this practice. It is not however ethical under any plausible interpretation of that word. Hunter Biden cashed in on his father’s position and diplomats like George Kent flagged the glaring conflict of interest. Kent was reportedly blown off by Biden’s staff in the Vice President’s office. Thus, while we were clamoring for anti-corruption measures (and Biden was withholding over a billion dollars in aid for that purpose), Ukrainians were pouring 50K a month into the pocket of Biden’s son.
There is also a second problem for Joe Biden. The former Vice President has stressed that he never spoke to his son about this foreign dealings. Hunter Biden contradicted that statement and said that he did speak with his father about Burisma. However, even if true, why is that an ethical approach to your office. You know that your son is cutting foreign deals but you do not question him on possible conflicts of interest? Ethics often demand preemptive not just responsive efforts. Joe Biden appears to believe that he was ethical so long as he did not learn of conflicts. Most of us maintain that you have to actively protect against such conflicts, particularly when you represent this country.
Democrats cannot have it both ways. You cannot call for scrutiny of Trump family contracts in foreign countries while twisting yourself into a knot to avoid acknowledging the obvious about the Hunter Biden contract. It was unethical and corrupt. Omitting the word is not a profile in courage. If politicians are truly opposed to such influence peddling, they will have to say so expressly and not simply by subtle omission.