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Tommy Carcetti

Tommy Carcetti's Journal
Tommy Carcetti's Journal
September 13, 2023

The Right's Zombie Lie about Joe Biden and the Prosecutor General Shokin

One of the most enduring lies about Joe Biden perpetrated from the Right claims he “openly bragged” about getting a Ukrainian Prosecutor General Shokin fired in 2016, supposedly to protect his son Hunter who sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

This lie first started making the circuits in 2019, when the scandal of Donald Trump extorting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to deliver dirt on his prospective opponent Biden under threat of security guarantees came to light, ultimately resulting in Trump’s first (but not last) impeachment.

That lie was easily debunked by documentable facts in 2019. It takes a mere few minutes of internet research to confirm that the claim is a lie. And it remains just as easily debunkable (if not more so) today.

Despite this, the lie continues to persist and live on in circles in the Right. And now—despite being so easily disprovable—Republicans in Congress have made it a central and very public accusation in their Quixotic quest to impeach President Biden, 7 years after the facts of the story took place.

First things first—there was no investigation of Hunter Biden (or Joe Biden) by Ukrainian authorities. There has never been an investigation of Hunter Biden by Ukrainian authorities. Technically, the investigation at issue wasn’t even into Burisma itself, but rather Burisma’s founder Mykhola Zlochevsky. That investigation in Ukraine had been spurred on in good part by a prior investigation of Zlochevsky’s assets in the United Kingdom in 2014.

Now what is true? That Joe Biden in January 2018—as former Vice President—recounted the facts behind Shokin’s firing during an event hosted by the Counsel for Foreign Relations. Specifically, Biden said that when he was sent as envoy by the White House to Ukraine in late 2015, he delivered an ultimatum to then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: replace Shokin as Prosecutor General, or risk losing a potential US aid package to Ukraine.

But that’s as true as the story will ever get. Because as a 5-minute Google search of the facts from sources contemporaneous to Shokin’s ultimate firing in 2016, it’s very clear that everyone—not just Joe Biden in some mythical effort to protect his son against a non-existent investigation—wanted Shokin gone. That Vice President Biden was acting as a messenger of official White House policy. That this was also the policy of numerous other entities, including the European Union, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank because they believed Shokin was doing too little in fighting internal corruption. That Shokin wasn’t even a real threat to any investigation against Zlochevsky/Burisma because he had essentially abandoned efforts in that pre-existing investigation.

Just a handy reference for reporting about Shokin—not from 2019 or 2023, when Republican spin on the subject began—but from 2016, when Shokin was actually fired and there was no hint of controversy at all to the story.

First of all, we know the State Department under President Obama wanted Shokin gone:

https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-nuland-oligarchs-corruption/27615366.html

In addition, Western officials pushed for months for the resignation of Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin, who was accused of being incapable of reforming his office, seen as one of the country's most corrupt.

Shokin stepped down in February on the same day that Ukraine's parliament narrowly defeated a no-confidence vote in Yatsenyuk's government.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the latest installment of its $40 billion aid program, which has been instrumental in stabilizing Ukraine's anemic economy, could be held up unless changes are made.

"Every week that Ukraine drifts internally, that reform is stalled, IMF and international support goes undisbursed, and those in and outside the country who preferred the old Ukraine grow more confident," Nuland said on March 15.


We also know the European Union wanted Shokin gone:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/eu-hails-sacking-of-ukraine-s-prosecutor-viktor-shokin-1.2591190

The European Union has welcomed the dismissal of Ukraine's scandal-ridden prosecutor general and called for a crackdown on corruption, even as the country's political crisis deepened over efforts to form a new ruling coalition and appoint a new prime minister.
Ukraine's parliament voted overwhelmingly to fire Viktor Shokin, ridding the beleaguered prosecutor's office of a figure who is accused of blocking major cases against allies and influential figures and stymying moves to root out graft.


As did the International Monetary Fund (IMF):
https://www.ft.com/content/44c1641e-cff7-11e5-831d-09f7778e7377

The president has come under pressure at home and internationally for refusing to replace a long-time loyalist, Viktor Shokin, as chief prosecutor. Mr Shokin has been criticised for failing to bring to justice any of the snipers who killed dozens of protesters in central Kiev in the final days of the revolution, and for dragging his feet over investigating senior officials and businesspeople. Taras Kuzio, a Ukrainian political analyst, tweeted that “the crunch is coming for President Poroshenko who has to choose between finally supporting anti-corruption efforts or losing IMF money”.


Other NGOs also calling for Shokin’s ouster included the Atlantic Council:

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/seven-key-reforms-for-ukraine-in-2016/

1. The main priority is reform of the prosecution and courts. Ukraine adopted a law on prosecution, but Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin managed to take control of the reform process, minimizing the change. Shokin has to go and the reform of the prosecution needs to start anew under new leadership. Similarly, the country’s 10,000 judges need to be lustrated and new judges appointed in a reformed court system.


Now, notably in the face of such a rebuttal, certain persons on the Right have nonetheless insisted that, no, Shokin actually was investigating Burisma at the time he was fired and therefore was somehow a threat to Joe/Hunter Biden. Of course, this doesn’t explain everyone else wanting Shokin gone. But even this is blatantly false.

The fact was, Shokin had done next to nothing in terms of the Zlochevsky/Burisma investigation. Shokin took office on February 10, 2015 and remained in office until March 29, 2016. The only action on the Zlovhecsky/Burisma front during this time period was a seizure order of Zlochevsky’s assets. However, that order was actually entered on February 2, 2015—by Shokin’s predecessor eight days before Shokin actually took office. Zlochevsky appealed that order in the courts. It was tentatively struck down by the courts on December 25, 2015 but then reinstated by the courts on January 27, 2016, with the order being published on February 4, 2016. The most important thing to know about this is that Shokin himself had nothing to do with any of it—it was all initiated by his predecessor and then fought over in the courts. And there’s no evidence Shokin himself had done anything productive at all regarding either Zlochevsky or Burisma during his roughly 1 year in office.

People on the right have disingenuously claimed the February 4, 2016 published order reinstating the asset seizure was somehow the work of Shokin. It was not; it was simply a reinstatement of the February 2, 2015 asset seizure initiated by Shokin’s predecessor.

This is all laid out quite well by the Washington Post (possible paywall):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/04/gop-tries-connect-dots-biden-ukraine-comes-up-short/

It’s also discussed in detail in a 2020 House interview with former US Envoy George Kent (who testified during the first impeachment hearing):

https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/wp-content/uploads/imo/media/doc/2020-07-24-Kent%20Interview%20with%20Exhibits.pdf

The Right (including a recent piece by opinion columnist Miranda Devine in the worst newspaper in the country, a.k.a. The New York Post) has also cited to a couple of items of correspondence in 2015 that they claim the State Department and European Union were actually pleased with Shokin’s work; the actual items of correspondence reveal nothing more than some vague general compliments that were likely meant as attempts at encouraging a further crackdown of corruption; nonetheless, the subsequent statements from 2016 show that it was unequivocally clear that both the State Department and the EU felt that Shokin had ultimately failed in his mission and needed replacement.

The bottom line is that most recent lie being pushed by Republicans in favor of impeachment is nothing but a Zombie lie, long discredited but nonetheless persisting on despite its lack of any sort of truth.



September 12, 2023

Remember Whitewater?

Well, maybe we political nerds do.

Most ordinary Americans probably don't. Even those who were around in the 90s.

Whitewater was the byzantine, nebulous "scandal" alleged against the Clintons that lead to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor--first Robert Fiske, but subsequently the late and infamous Ken Starr.

Ask anyone what Whitewater was actually about and it's doubtful they'd tell you.

There was something about a land deal in Arkansas, a defunct savings-and-loan, bank records, billing records, and--wait, your eyes are glazing over already, right?

It all was terminally dull, confusing, and most importantly of all, didn't seem to actually implicate the Clintons in anything. The hope was that it would lead to something scintillating and shocking that would outrage Americans and turn them against President Clinton. Or at least mire them in rumor and innuendo of wrongdoing.

But nobody cared. Nobody had any sort of reason to care, because there was nothing to care about. It was the biggest non-story of non-stories.

Once Starr had commandeered the Special Prosecutor ship, he realized the Americans' complete sense of apathy towards the Whitewater story. And thus he somehow was able to parlay it from a vague, confusing two-decades old financial matter into allegations of more recent inappropriate personal behavior by President Clinton--namely the Paula Jones sexual harassment civil suit. How he managed that turn of events, I'm still not 100% sure. But nonetheless, it eventually lead to the discovery of a consensual relationship between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton subsequently denied under oath, and in turn which Republicans ultimately used for purposes of impeachment.

That scandal Americans do remember.

Of course, the economy was absolutely roaring under President Clinton, and most Americans didn't feel the need to make an impeachment issue over what was at most a personal failing by the President.

Still, the Republicans got the impeachment of President Clinton that they had always wanted, as laughable and unpopular as it was. And despite President Clinton's obvious acquittal in the Senate, the scandal did still leave an embarrassing mark on his personal legacy.

But it wasn't over Whitewater.

It's not exactly clear what Republicans want to impeach President Biden over. They've drudged up various bank statements and made references to his son and his financial dealings. There's references to supposed shell companies and beneficiaries and money transfers and--your eyes are glazing over again, right?

This all is just Whitewater 2.0--a confusing twisted-up financial story that most likely won't reveal any actual wrongdoing by the President, and won't actually grab the attention of Americans by storm because it is neither straight-forward and simple (as was the case in Donald Trump's two impeachments) nor salacious and sexy (as it was with President Clinton's impeachment).

The bad news for Republicans in this case, however, is that there's unlikely to be a Lewinsky story at the end of the proverbial rainbow that they can massage into it in order to spice it up.

And so this, like Whitewater, will eventually disappear into the ether, never to be remembered and never to be understood.

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