The connection of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, to a major Ukrainian natural gas company, has hit the headlines as part of the U.S. Democrats’ request to impeach the U.S. President.
Ukraine's largest private natural gas producer, Burisma Holdings, is at the center of a political duel between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrat challenger Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential race in the U.S.
Mykola Zlochevsky, who was Ukraine's ecology minister under former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych between 2010 and 2012, founded Burisma Holdings in 2002. When Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 and fled to Russia, Zlochevsky followed him a few months later when Ukraine’s prosecutor general began an investigation into him.
When former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took office on June 7, 2014, former U.S. President Barack Obama had made Vice President Joe Biden his point man to help improve bilateral relations between the two countries and support Kiev in the fight against corruption.
Hunter Biden, who is now 49, had joined the Board of Directors of Burisma Holdings on May 12, 2014 -- almost a month before Poroshenko took office -- according to the company’s press release.
The press release said "R. Hunter Biden will be in charge of the Holdings' legal unit and will provide support for the company among international organizations."
Hunter Biden's comment in the release said Burisma's "leadership in the field of natural gas means that it can be a strong driver of a strong economy in Ukraine," adding he will consult the company "on matters of transparency."
The younger Biden reportedly received $50,000 a month until he stepped down from the board of directors of Burisma in April 2019. His father, Joe Biden, was U.S. Vice President between January 2009 and January 2017.
Trump's camp argues that Joe Biden had improperly used his influence during his time in office to prevent then Ukraine's top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, investigate his son Hunter.
Although Shokin opened investigations into profitable gas licenses that were awarded in Ukraine since he had become the country's prosecutor general in February 2015, it was not clear whether up to his resignation in March 2016 if he had investigated Burisma or Hunter.
Thousands of Ukrainians protested for weeks for Shokin to resign for his failure to fight corruption, but it was Biden's controversial call, which allegedly threatened to withhold $1 billion U.S. loan from Ukraine if Shokin was not fired.
Biden admitted saying that at the Council on Foreign Relations' foreign affairs issue launch on Jan. 23, 2018. "I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t," Biden said, according to a transcript on the council's website.
"I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in; I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money," Biden said.
During that time, some critics had also claimed that it was a conflict of interest for Hunter Biden to work for a Ukrainian company while his father was actively working with the government of that country; however, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing yet.
Trump vs. Biden
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, announced Tuesday the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump after a whistleblower's complaint suggested that Trump requested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate Biden and his son to gain political leverage against his opponent.
The whistleblower, whose name has not been made public yet, suggested that Trump asked Zelensky during a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden, his son, and their involvement in Burisma Holdings.
If Trump used his presidential powers to influence a foreign government to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, who is a frontrunner among Democratic presidential candidates in 2020, it would constitute a "betrayal of his oath of office," Pelosi said.
"This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions, which would benefit him politically," she added.
Trump has acknowledged the July phone call with Zelensky but refuted that he pressured him to investigate Biden and his son. Later, Trump said he authorized the White House to release the transcript of his call with Zelensky.
"They never even saw the transcript of the call. A total Witch Hunt! " Trump said Tuesday on Twitter, adding Wednesday "There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have. The Democrats are frozen with hatred and fear."
In U.S. history, only three presidents have faced impeachment -- Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. While Johnson and Clinton were acquitted, Nixon resigned from the White House before the impeachment process could be completed.
On Wednesday, the White House released the June 25 phone transcript between Trump and Zelensky, although not verbatim.
"I would like you to do us a favor," Trump said during the call after Zelensky raised the issue of arms purchases from the U.S., according to the transcript.
Trump then asks Zelensky to contact U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump said, according to the transcript.
"I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call, and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out," he said.
Trump is also said to have ordered his acting chief of staff in the White House to hold off releasing around $400 million in military aid to Ukraine right before the July phone call, according to a senior official in his administration, the Washington Post reported.
Trump has confirmed freezing aid but has denied he held up funding to pressure Zelensky, insisting there was no "quid pro quo” -- a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for a reciprocal favor.
The Democrats also seek clarification as to why Trump withheld the military aid to Ukraine, and they want U.S. Justice Department to release the full whistleblower complaint, and allow him/her to testify to committees in Congress.
The whistleblower has asked to speak before the House Intelligence Committee, and Adam Schiff, its chairman, said the session could go ahead as soon as this week.
Meanwhile, the plot thickened on Wednesday when Trump via Twitter said the whistleblower's lead attorney donated to Biden's 2020 presidential campaign.
The Washington Free Beacon, a U.S.-based conservative journal, reported Wednesday that the lead counsel representing the whistleblower, Andrew Bakaj, donated to Joe Biden's presidential campaign earlier this year, according to its records.
Bakaj is a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, federal investigator and attorney, who served as a senior investigator with the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, and an expert on federal whistleblower reprisal law and investigations, according to his LinkedIn profile.