TLDRUpFront: Since the whistleblower complaint on President Trump’s call with Ukraine is going to end up being the case that the Democrats launch impeachment proceedings on the InfoMullt’s going to spend some time this week laying key groundwork on background context for some of the more complicated elements. If only so we can go back later and link this post since we’re sure it will come up repeatedly.
FullContext in the Back:
This post seeks to explain why President Trump has been trying to get Ukraine to start an investigation on Hunter Biden, who is Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, and untangle that perspective.
First we need to distinguish between two forms of corruption. Big-C Corruption are things like bribery of public officials, witness intimidation, extortion, kickbacks, abuse of public office and violation of laws. These are specifically criminal acts. The falsification test of Big-C Corruption is that you have to be able to find a statute somewhere in the criminal code that specifies an act, it’s illegality or criminal nature, and a punishment for it. Absent that, we may find it odious, but it’s not Big-C Corruption.
Little-c corruption is all the special perks, privileges, accesses, and benefits that come from being famous, being related to someone that’s famous, or having a network of relationships that will do things for you, because of a system of mutual patronage, and not on merit. Little-c corruption are all the odious things that happen at all levels of society because of who-knows-who but are not criminal. We know that the falsification between little-c corruption and Big-C Corruption is the existence of criminal code. But the falsification of little-c corruption is a bit more subjective. It involves taking the counter-factual of a scenario where the fame, networks, patronage was removed, and seeing if the results are still plausible. In other words, asking: “Would this likely have happened were it not for the proximity to fame, patronage, or influence network the person enjoyed?” If you can find an explanatory causal string of experiences and self-earned merits, then at least there’s a valid argument to make it’s not little-c corruption.
Explaining the Biden-Ukraine angle is about untangling Big-C Corruption from what surely is little-c corruption. By that I mean I have little doubt that Hunter Biden, Joe’s son, has benefitted his entire life from little-c corruption. He came from the right family (a Senator’s son), checked the right boxes (Georgetown undergrad, Yale Law), entered the right law and lobbying practices, made partner at not one but multiple firms, got a “policy advisor” assignment in the Department of Commerce during Clinton’s administration with a title so appropriately timely and yet vague, “Director of E-Commerce Policy Issues.” He’s the guy who in his 40’s got a cushy Naval Officer Reserve commission (only two weeks total effort) after obtaining two special waivers: one for his age, and another for repeated drug arrests and abuse in his past. He didn’t even last a year in that position before leaving the service for alleged drug abuse.
I think you get the picture.
But the actual charge President Trump and Rudolph “Colonel Jessup” Giuliani are making is of big-C “Corruption” by then Vice President Biden on behalf of his son. The accusation is that Hunter Biden, in one of these soft-c influence purchases got a seat on the board of Burisma, which was a Ukrainian conglomerate involved in natural gas. I think the charge that Hunter was unqualified to serve on the board is a bit unfair. Most board holders have more qualifications with the finance and law community than their underlying companies, and Hunter was no exception. But let’s not kid ourselves either, he received the Board seat because of whose son he was. That may be soft-c corruption but there is zero evidence that while a board member Hunter Biden engaged in any large C Corruption: bribery, extortion, illegal kickbacks, abuse of public office. My guess is that they like many others before them, made an investment in Hunter Biden based on what they thought they might get and were disappointed in the outcome.
However, Burisma is like a real-life version of the caricaturized villains-company in the tired trope of Eastern European thriller movies. Like, if I put Burisma in a movie central casting would call upon Rade Serbedzija to play the role of the Chairman of Burisma and Costuming would hand him a cane topped by some decorative yet threatening animal motif. Even at the time of Hunter Biden’s appointment there was a lot of speculation that this was little-c influence peddling. And I have no reason to doubt that it was. A BBC article I’ve linked below has a quote from a reporter describing his appointment as: “this seems like a ‘cliched movie plot’: a shady foreign oil company co-opts the vice president’s son in order to capture lucrative foreign investment contracts.”
For sake of the ongoing discussion, I’m going to accept the premise that there is little-c corruption in Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, and if anyone wants to argue the virtue of Hunter Biden here, feel free to bring it up in the comments.
But little-c corruption is different from Big-C Corruption.
The charge against Joe Biden by President Trump is for Big-C Corruption. That Biden abused his office as Vice President to request the removal of Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin who showed too much concern in Burisma and his son Hunter, and so Vice President Biden threatened to withhold $1B in aid to Ukraine unless Shokin was sacked, thereby protecting Hunter.
Unfortunately for President Trump, nothing other than the words “Vice President Biden threatened to withhold $1B in aid to Ukraine unless the Shokin was sacked” appears to be provable.
At the time Shokin showed himself as a thoroughly corrupt official even by Ukrainian standards, which like Greece has made public corruption into something of a national sport. He was widely regarded as ethically compromised, in the pocket of Russian interests, and his own Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko actually resigned in protest prior to Biden’s pressure. It was the general policy, not just of the US, but many Western institutions that Shokin had to go if political corruption was finally going to be improved in Ukraine. And the intersection of corruption and politics, and politics in general in Ukraine is fiendishly complex and not for the faint of heart. Especially since the Orange Revolution and subsequent chain of events leading to Euromaidan, overthrow of Yanukovych and subsequent Crimean intervention and Donbass insurgency orchestrated by Putin’s Russia. But this is what makes it such fertile ground for corruption allegations. It’s a readymade conspiracy, just add water.
It does appear to be true that the General Prosecutor Shokin had opened an investigation into Burisma at some point in the past, but the Deputy General Prosecutor who resigned, Vitaly Kasko has both stated and produced contemporaneous documents showing that the investigation was dormant during the time Hunter was on the Board, and Hunter was never a focus of the investigation. I’m guessing the focus was on Rade. It’s the combination of beard and ominous animal motif cane that drew attention. Trust me I know this pain. #SoUnfair
‘CEO of Burisma’ & InfoMullet AlterEgo Rade Serbedzja
This “contemporaneous” documentation is key because the allegation that Biden sought to shoot Shokin to protect his son only came from Shokin himself in 2018, when it became apparent that Joe Biden was going to run for President in 2020. It’s not clear if Shokin is score-settling, trying to curry favor with the Trump administration, or other reasons.
But this is the allegation that the Trump administration has latched onto for its calls to “investigate” Biden’s Ukraine connection for the past year. Trump and his allies are asserting a higher ethical principle that “corruption is bad” (pause for laughter) but in pragmatic terms it’s clear the strategy is to knock a potential contender in politics.
Part of this is because many politicians have a “vital-lie” with which they sell themselves to the public. Something that is either partially true, or the public begins to believe, and the politician declines to correct, that then becomes so attached with their narrative, to expose the vital-lie is avoided at all cost. Joe Biden’s vital lie is that he’s “Middle Class Joe” even though most of his siblings are wealthy financiers, he’s been at the center of influence and patronage networks his entire Senatorial career, and his family has massively benefited from the kind of access that certainly doesn’t come to the “Middle Class.” And it’s not just Biden who had this vital lie. Obama’s vital-lie was twofold: the first that he was raised in a struggling household by a single-mother and the second is that he was more progressive and radical than he was at heart. Trump’s vital-lie is that he actually knows how to run a successful business. The charge, even if it doesn’t stick, could do some damage at the margins because it reveals Biden’s vital-lie for the narrative that it is.
Now using Ukraine as the playground for corruption charges is nothing new in the US. One of the reasons Trump is sore about Ukraine in general is that Clinton’s campaign team went and got foreign opposition research on him and his business activities from the Ukrainian government. (I even reported on this during the campaign on this Facebook.) Which seems close to what Trump is accused of doing with Russia, seeking opposition research on a political candidate. The difference is that the information Clinton got was already published as part of Ukrainian official investigations that had already been ongoing unrelated to the elections, the Clinton campaign publicly disclosed they were doing it, and the information was already in the public sphere.
Still, to President Trump who has a particularistic, rather than universalist ethical viewpoint, , this has always seemed “unfair.” That he is being subjected to a ‘witch-hunt’ for his actions with Russia while Clinton does (in his eyes) the same thing and doesn’t get called to account with Ukraine. There’s a definite personal-payback angle to this that goes beyond even the immediate utility of tarring a potential presidential contender.
But the bottom line, in my mind, is that Hunter Biden is certainly guilty of little-c corruption in terms of influence peddling and Papa Biden like most fathers turned a blind eye or just pretended not to see how one of his sons was simply coasting in his wake. But I have yet to see any evidence that Joe Biden’s actions as VP to withhold the aid were anything other than furthering a then stated policy of both the US and its allies to reduce corruption, and although it was ‘problematic’ his son was working in the country under dubious qualifications at the time, there’s contemporary reporting on this aspect, this was a long history of dubious career appointments for his son and I don’t see any particular reason Joe would threaten to withhold aid on behalf of his son versus than this was something the White House decided it needed to do as part of its chess game vs. Russia using Ukraine as the board.
Before I conclude I’m going to touch on one point that is sure to come up, though I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere before. The heart of the charge against Trump currently stands at:
In a phone call with a foreign leader he threatened to withhold Congressionally approved aid to Ukraine, who is currently in a military conflict with Russia, unless they took a specific action in regard to the running of their legal system.
But people are going to rightfully look at Biden’s action and think, hey wait a minute, didn’t Vice President Biden also do the same thing? I mean the facts on the surface are the same. This is where the falsification test of Big-C Corruption comes in.
A careful review of the relevant laws will find language somewhere that grants discretion to the executive branch of withholding aid to further the purpose of reducing corruption, as this is a stated policy of the United States. And so, such an act is not abuse of office.
But nowhere within the relevant laws do I imagine will anyone find language that the executive branch can withhold aid to further the purpose of their own political campaign, or to harm the campaign of another. And that using an office to do such is an abuse of office as it involves misappropriating Congressional funds, among many other things.
And that’s Big-C Corruption. And that’s what will result in impeachment proceedings against Trump.
And that’s why I’m spending the time now, to clear up this Biden angle, and I’ll cover a few more aspects as I have time this week. Because unlike the other scandals, I don’t think this one is going away, and I think that if Pelosi ever were to launch impeachment proceedings, it would be on this the case.
Some of the backstory on Biden’s Ukraine connections:
Contemporary reporting at the time that Burisma is not the kind of firm you sit on the board of without dirtying yourself:
NY Times coverage on the origin of the Ukrainian grudge Trump holds:
Article from just prior to inauguration referencing Clinton’s opposition research in Ukraine that is the source of Trump’s Ukraine grudge:
PS. The InfoMullet’s alter-ego is Rade. I mean just look at this guy, if he were the Chairman of the Board of a Ukrainian natural gas conglomerate wouldn’t you want to investigate him too? Just on principle.