President Biden’s repeated denials that he participated in his son’s foreign business transactions or ever spoke to his son about them have shifted in recent weeks amid an accumulation of evidence from bank records and eyewitness testimony that show he likely played a pivotal role in securing the lucrative deals.
Mr. Biden opted to remain silent on Friday when reporters shouted questions at him about a new Justice Department special counsel investigation of his son Hunter Biden for crimes related to tax evasion, financial schemes and potentially for acting as an unregistered lobbyist for foreign entities.
The president has long denied involvement in his son’s business deals, but a House investigation has compiled evidence that Mr. Biden helped his family pocket millions of dollars by serving as the influential “brand” and popping in on phone calls and business meetings.
Questions about Mr. Biden’s candor were raised again this week when a 2015 photo surfaced showing then-Vice President Biden aboard Air Force Two en route to Ukraine talking to advisor Amos Hochstein. According to congressional investigators, Mr. Hochstein at the time had repeatedly warned about a conflict of interest from Hunter Biden getting a $1 million-a-year job on the board of the Ukraine energy firm Burisma.
Hunter Biden and his associates also sought help from Mr. Hochstein on behalf of Burisma on a Ukraine gas tax initiative, but it’s not clear if he provided any assistance.
Republicans called the Air Force Two photo “damning.” They said it is further evidence that Mr. Biden, despite his denials, was well aware of his son’s business deals and spoke about them.
The photo was taken on the way to Kyiv, where Mr. Biden met with then-President Petro Poroshenko and demanded he fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who had been investigating Burisma.
Mr. Biden, at an event Tuesday in Arizona, did not deny knowing about his son’s business deals but instead stated: “I never talked business with anybody.”
Mr. Biden was responding to a reporter’s question about new testimony from his son’s former business associate, Devon Archer.
Archer recently told House investigators the then-vice president phoned in to around 20 of Hunter Biden’s business meetings and dined twice with their business associates.
Mr. Biden’s statement marks a shift from his professed ignorance about his son’s lucrative deals, including his board seat on the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, which paid Hunter Biden a total of more than $3 million.
When asked in a 2019 Axios interview what job Hunter Biden was performing for Burisma to earn the hefty paycheck, Mr. Biden said, “I don’t know what he was doing. I knew he was on the board, but that was it.”
According to Archer, who is facing a prison term on an unrelated securities fraud conviction, Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky and another top Burisma executive,Vadym Pozharskyi, arranged a phone call, through Hunter, with the elder Mr. Biden in December 2015. The Burisma executives wanted to talk to him about the ongoing state corruption probe into their company that was hindering efforts to break into energy markets in the U.S.
Mr. Pozharskyi also dined with Mr. Biden at a Georgetown restaurant in April 2015, Archer revealed to House investigators.
Archer said the dinner conversation did not include any business talk and Democrats have downplayed his testimony, arguing Hunter Biden was merely selling “the illusion” that his powerful father would help Burisma executives and other business associates.
Earlier this summer, two IRS whistleblowers told Congress they found evidence that could prove more direct involvement from Mr. Biden.
In their investigation into Hunter Biden over unpaid taxes, IRS investigators uncovered WhatsApp messages in which Hunter Biden threatened a Chinese business associate to come through with some money.
“I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled,” Hunter Biden messaged to Henry Zhao on June 30, 2017. “Tell the director that I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand, and now means tonight.
And, Z, if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang, or the chairman, I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret not following my direction. I am sitting here waiting for the call with my father.”
The new revelations were followed by a shift in messaging from the White House.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pivoted away from claiming the president was ignorant of his son’s business deals, telling reporters, “The answer remains the same. The president was never in business with his son.”
Mr. Biden’s denials started in 2019 when he was running for president.
“First of all, I have never discussed with my son or my brother or anyone else anything having to do with their business, period,” Biden said at a campaign event in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in August 2019.
He told reporters at the event that during his time as vice president, “There wasn’t any hint of scandal at all when we were there.” He pledged “an absolute wall” between the White House and his family’s business deals.
“That’s why I never talked with my son or my brother or anyone else, even distant family, about their business interests. Period,” Mr. Biden said.
His claim was disputed by Archer when he appeared earlier this month in an online interview with Tucker Carlson. He called the Biden denials “categorically false” and said that Mr. Biden “was aware of Hunter’s business [and] met with Hunter’s business partners.”
House Republican leaders recently wrote to White House Counsel Stuart Delery demanding to know if Mr. Biden was tapped into his son’s business deals. The letter points to the shifting statements from both the president and his press team that seem to offer new wiggle room to accommodate the bank records and witness testimony that could tie the president to his son’s business deals.
“The American people must have confidence that the President of the United States is not compromised by foreign interests,” lawmakers wrote.
The White House has not responded.
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