Burisma = Benghazi 2.0

by Martin Schram

You don’t need to be a famous codebreaker to crack the codename — “My Guy” — that kept popping up in Hunter Biden’s emails. He’d just seen the first sign that his big ka-ching deal with Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company, would pay off, big-time.

“The announcement of my guy’s upcoming travels should be characterized as part of our advice and thinking,” Hunter Biden emailed Devon Archer, his U.S. business partner and fellow new Burisma board member, on April 12, 2014. “But what he will say and do is out of our hands. In other words it could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation….

“The contract should begin now — not after the upcoming visit of my guy. That should include a retainer in the range of 25k p/m (Translation: $25,000 per month) … This could be the break we have been waiting for if they really are smart enough to understand our long term value.”

I’m guessing you’ve already cracked the code: Hunter’s “My Guy” was America’s vice president and his dad. It reads like a boast about control and clout at a time when Joe Biden would soon come to Kiev to talk with Ukraine’s new president.

President Barack Obama had assigned him to somehow guide corruption-ridden Ukraine toward corruption-controlled prosperity. And Hunter wrote a 22-point action memo to his colleague Archer on how they could make themselves appear indispensable to Burisma’s oilmen and big money folks elsewhere. Especially China: “We had assurances that the PRC money would come first and we would build on that. … If they want us in Beijing once a month and pitching this outside PRC we should be getting paid in advance.”

At the recent House Oversight Committee hearing, the Republican majority worked hard to magnify Hunter Biden’s Burisma boondoggle — and make it appear Hunter’s dad benefited improperly. Maybe even impeachably. Never mind that they’ve found no evidence of it. It’s all about whataboutism — payback for the prosecutions of Donald Trump.

House Republicans pressed Archer about what he understood Hunter Biden meant when he repeatedly referred to “my guy” in his email urging that they link his dad’s official Ukraine visit to “our advice and thinking.”

“He’s saying that… I can’t guide my father in what he’s going to do on this trip, but let’s get credit for it …. He was getting paid a lot of money and … he wanted to show value.”

No doubt you’ve also figured out why Burisma’s big-oil execs decided Hunter, who had no background in Ukraine or big oil, was suddenly a perfect fit for their boardroom. Hunter was leveraging appearances of access into assumptions of clout with his dad, the veep. Ka-ching.

The hearing showcased a number of times when Joe Biden allowed himself to become a showpiece in Hunter’s business dinners and meetings. He allegedly never talked business; just pleasantries. But Hunter gave global execs a night of access they could brag about forever.

Yet we also need to put all that into its very sad context. All this was happening just as the Biden family’s best of times was suddenly shattered into its worst of times, yet again.

In 2013, Beau Biden — Hunter’s life anchor, his dad’s idol – was diagnosed with the deadly brain tumor that would take his life in just two years. Beau and Hunter had been Joe’s reason for living ever since they were badly injured in the car accident that killed their mother and sister when their dad was senator-elect. Beau became a brilliant success. Hunter spiraled through an adulthood of alcoholism and addiction. Joe, ever watchful, called him daily.

When Joe learned about Hunter’s Burisma boondoggle, I’m sure he feared saying anything (like “You can’t do that!”) that might cause Hunter to plunge into new peril. Or worse. He just vowed not to discuss his biz with Hunter.

Now Donald Trump’s House Republicans are recycling that decade-old happening as today’s breaking news. Ever threatening impeachment retribution, they repeatedly claim Joe Biden tried to protect Hunter’s Burisma pals from being caught in a Ukraine corruption crackdown. It’s their latest political attack formula: Burisma = Benghazi 2.0.

But the Republicans’ problem is that, in 2018, Joe Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations a boastful tale that, if verifiable, proves the opposite. Biden said that in his meeting with President Petro Poroshenko, he demanded Ukraine prove its corruption-fighting commitment by firing the state prosecutor (who failed to fight corruption) before he would approve a new $1 billion loan guarantee.

“I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours,” Joe Biden said. “If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”

It’s time for House Republicans to call off their game of impeachment tag – and lead a bipartisan quest to revitalize our democracy.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.