I’ve finally worked my way through the long New Yorker profile of the former Ukraine prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who fed Rudy Giuliani supposedly bombshell information about corruption in Ukraine. The picture is about what you would expect: of Rudy on a wild-goose chase in a country he knew much less about than he thought, led on by people with their own self-interest in leading him on. The root of the Ukraine controversy is that Rudy, who must be the worst lawyer any president of the United States has ever had, convinced Trump to join this chase against the better judgment of almost everyone else around the president.
There are two other striking things about the piece. One is that it underscores how Rudy — and presumably by extension, Trump — sincerely believed he was about to unravel some kind of vast conspiracy involving the Bidens. This doesn’t speak well of his judgment, but it does go to his intentions (this is probably why Trump, near the end of the caper when he was saying he didn’t want a quid pro quo, averred he only wanted the Ukrainians to do the right thing).
The other is that Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, were legitimately shady and had in the past been deemed worthy of investigation.
The New Yorker piece notes this:
Burisma had announced that Hunter had joined its board in 2014, less than a month after Zlochevsky’s accounts in the U.K. were secretly frozen. The announcement received little sustained attention in the U.S., but the pro-Russia media jumped on the story and continued to push it as a matter of dark concern. Hunter, who had long struggled with severe drug and alcohol problems, had almost no expertise in the region or in energy, and many U.S. and Ukrainian officials suspected that Zlochevsky had put Hunter on the board in the hope of protecting himself from prosecution. Some White House and State Department officials disapproved of Hunter’s role at Burisma, concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest, but they mostly avoided discussing the matter with Joe Biden. The Vice-President had an unwritten “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to his family members’ business decisions. The issue seemed too sensitive to raise easily, particularly given that Biden’s elder son, Beau, had advanced cancer.
While U.S. authorities had pushed Ukrainian leaders to pursue the money-laundering case against Zlochevsky, Ukrainian law-enforcement officials became concerned, because Hunter Biden was on the Burisma board, that any steps they took might displease powerful people in Kyiv and Washington, and they slowed down their efforts. Andrii Telizhenko, who served as an adviser to Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time, Vitaliy Yarema, told me, “I got calls from Yarema, from lower prosecutors, asking, ‘What should we do? Can you find out from the U.S.?’ They still have the Soviet mentality. They were afraid of power. They asked themselves, ‘What will happen to us and our families?’ ”
In January, 2019, Lev Parnas—who told me that he was “like Rudy’s assistant”—arranged a Skype call between Giuliani and Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor general whom Poroshenko had fired at the urging of Joe Biden, two years earlier, and who had since retired. During the call, Shokin made the unsubstantiated claim that Biden had him removed from the job because he had been investigating Zlochevsky and Burisma. Ukrainian and American officials told me that the situation was quite the opposite, and that Shokin had in fact been fired for failing to investigate Burisma and other similar cases despite calls by Ambassador Pyatt and others for him to do so.