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Analysis | Comer hypes Ukraine documents that Hur says Biden retained by mistake


“We want to know which documents Joe Biden mishandled pertaining to Ukraine and China. Because we’ve, as you know, proven, tens of millions of dollars that the Bidens took in from these countries, we believe that one of the classified documents may be on an email that was in Hunter Biden’s laptop to Ukraine at a time when Hunter Biden was trying to prove his worth to Burisma.”

— Comer, James Comer (R-Ky.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, in an interview on Newsmax, Feb. 14

“Our concern is those documents, specifically the documents he mishandled from countries like Ukraine and China. Countries where the Bidens have taken in tens of millions of dollars. We need to know were those documents used as a central part of the Biden influence-peddling scheme, were these documents, documents that Hunter Biden was taking and sending and handing over to our enemies around the world in return for payment because we believe there’s a chance that that in fact happened. If you look at the emails on the laptop, Hunter Biden sent some suspicious emails especially to Ukraine that look like government documents, that meet the criteria of what would be considered a classified document, so this is why we are concerned about receiving the transcripts and the video.”

—Comer, in an interview on Fox Business Network, Feb. 15

In two interviews, Comer has suggested that two Ukraine-related documents referenced in special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report concerning Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents might have ended up informing or been part of emails found on the laptop that the president’s son Hunter left at a computer repair shop in Delaware. Comer, along two other House committee chairs, has demanded the Justice Department provide access to the documents, as well as other materials, by Monday.

Last year, shortly after Hur was appointed to investigate the discovery of classified documents at President Biden’s residence and former office, Republican lawmakers began to speculate that Hunter had gained access to the documents to bolster his importance to the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Hunter was named to Burisma’s board in 2014, when his father, then vice president, was the top U.S. policymaker on Ukraine — an arrangement that State Department officials worried was a potential conflict of interest that undermined the administration’s efforts to stem corruption in the country.

GOP lawmakers especially have focused on two emails found on the laptop. Let’s look at the timeline.

The first email is dated April 13, 2014, a month before Hunter joined the Burisma board, and key lawmakers speculated that Hunter wrote it after gaining access to classified documents. A year ago, we examined the email in detail and concluded instead that it appears to be largely the product of diligent reading of contemporary newspaper and magazine articles.

For instance, in one interview, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said a reference in the email to potential new U.S. sanctions on Russia “certainly might have been” classified information. But five days before the email was sent, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in widely reported remarks that the U.S. could impose new economic sanctions on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.

The second email — actually part of an email chain — started in October 2015 and concerned the hiring of a U.S. public relations firm, known as Blue Star, to bolster Burisma’s image. In the email chain, a Ukrainian energy company executive suggested that the “ultimate purpose” of Hunter’s hiring by the company was to shut down investigations of the company’s owner. Paradoxically, the Obama administration had signaled a policy shift, as expressed in a speech by the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine a month earlier, of putting pressure on the country’s top prosecutor because he had failed to pursue “legitimate corruption cases,” including one involving Burisma’s owner.

There’s nothing that appears classified in these email exchanges — just strategizing about how to put Burisma in a better light.

Now let’s turn to the documents requested by the committee, referenced in the report as “A9” and “A10.”

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Comer and the other two committee chairs noted that these documents refer to “President Biden’s December 11, 2015 call with then-Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.”

A9 refers to talking points for the call, while A10 was a transcript of the call itself, according to an appendix of the Hur report. Both documents were found amid boxes in the Penn Biden Center, a Washington-based center affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania where Biden maintained an office after his term as vice president ended.

See the problem? The 2014 email — which supposedly contained classified information — was written 20 months before these documents were produced. That doesn’t make much sense. How could the email have been informed by classified information that did not yet exist?

The timeline is closer — a month or so earlier — if one looks at the emails concerning the hiring of Blue Star. But until now no one has suggested these emails contained classified information.

Moreover, the call was not a secret. The White House issued a statement, which was posted by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv the day of the call, after Biden spoke to Yatsenyuk.

“Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk about the importance of maintaining Ukrainian political unity and moving forward with essential reforms,” the statement said. “The Vice President condemned the attack on Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in the Rada today, calling on Ukraine’s lawmakers to end divisive rhetoric, which only hinders the reforms that the Ukrainian people deserve. The Vice President commended the Prime Minister on the passage of legislation reforming Ukraine’s civil service, and the leaders agreed on the importance of Ukraine continuing to implement reforms expeditiously.”

The Hur report also suggests that these documents, while technically classified, are not noteworthy. It noted that transcripts of such calls are “typically classified by default.”

“No jury could reasonably find that the substance of the call between Mr. Biden and the Ukrainian Prime Minister was national defense information,” the report said. “The two exchanged pleasantries and the Prime Minister heaped praise upon Mr. Biden for his December 9, 2015 speech to Ukraine’s parliament. They did not engage in a substantive policy discussion. There may be technical or nuanced reasons to maintain the classification of the call, but no reasonable jury could conclude the call or its contents were national defense information after the end of the Obama administration.”

The report said that there was “reasonable doubt” that Biden intended to retain these documents. Instead, they just got packed up by mistake when Biden vacated the West Wing.

In other words, if Biden did not know his office kept the documents, he couldn’t have secretly slipped them to Hunter.

Yet look again at how Comer describes them, with relevant sections in boldface:

  • “Because we’ve, as you know, proven, tens of millions of dollars that the Bidens took in from these countries, we believe that one of the classified documents may be on an email that was in Hunter Biden’s laptop to Ukraine at a time when Hunter Biden was trying to prove his worth to Burisma.”
  • “We need to know were those documents used as a central part of the Biden influence-peddling scheme, were these documents, documents that Hunter Biden was taking and sending and handing over to our enemies around the world in return for payment because we believe there’s a chance that that in fact happened. If you look at the emails on the laptop, Hunter Biden sent some suspicious emails especially to Ukraine that look like government documents, that meet the criteria of what would be considered a classified document.

(As for “the Bidens” taking “tens of millions of dollars,” the committee’s own math shows the figure is $11 million to $15 million — much of it to Hunter Biden. No money has been traced to the president.)

When we sought comment from Comer’s staff, we received the following statement:

“Chairman Comer is saying the subject matter of the classified documents A9 and A10 is the same or appears related to the issue that Hunter Biden had been emailing about with Blue Star Strategies, Burisma, and his business associates since October 2015. He is not saying the classified is ‘on’ (as in attached) to the email, but it is ‘on’ (as in regarding) the very issue the Committee is investigating.”

Notwithstanding Comer’s hyperbolic statements on television, it would be incorrect to suggest that the Ukraine documents in the Hur report indicate Hunter Biden had access to classified information or distributed classified information to “our enemies” in exchange for cash. These documents simply are on the same subject — Ukraine. But as we have shown, the Hur report says they are not especially secret or important.

As Emily Litella would say: “Never mind.”

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