A Democratic consulting firm that worked on behalf of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy giant that counted President Joe Biden’s son among its board members, is reportedly being investigated by the Justice Department in relation to what could have been illegal lobbying efforts to help the company’s oligarch owner.
The report by Politico on Thursday cited “four people familiar with the probe” and contended that DOJ is “investigating” Blue Star Strategies, a D.C.-based lobbying firm run by former Clinton administration officials, for “potentially illegal lobbying.” The outlet said that, according to its sources, the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office is “involved” in the investigation and is “coordinating” with attorneys in DOJ’s National Security Division based in the nation’s capital, and “there has been grand jury activity in connection to the probe.”
The outlet said “one focus of the investigation is whether the firm failed to comply with disclosure requirements” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and that it is Blue Star’s work for Burisma that has “subjected” it to “scrutiny” from the government, because the firm “had not disclosed to the Justice Department that Burisma was a client” and “did not disclose its work for Burisma in any federal lobbying databases” despite taking the Ukrainian energy giant on as a client in November 2015, while Hunter Biden held a position on Burisma’s board. The report contended that “there is no indication that Hunter Biden is a target of the investigation into Blue Star.”
Blue Star Strategies legal counsel Peter Kadzik told the Washington Examiner: “I am confident Blue Star Strategies is in full compliance with the law. Public records demonstrate the firm has consistently complied with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Lobbying and Disclosure Act requirements. Regarding Burisma Holdings, the firm did not lobby the U.S. government and did not violate any disclosure requirements. The firm will cooperate fully in any inquiry.”
Concerns about Hunter Biden gained broader attention in late 2020 after it emerged he is being federally investigated by the same Delaware prosecutor’s office in connection with his taxes and potentially related to his overseas business with China and elsewhere.
Blue Star was co-founded by CEO Karen Tramontano, a former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and COO Sally Painter, a former Clinton senior adviser. Blue Star was approached by Hunter Biden’s business partner, Devon Archer, also a board member on Burisma, to assist the Ukrainian company amid criticisms from U.S. officials that it and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, a Ukrainian oligarch and former natural resources minister from 2010 to 2012 under pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, were corrupt.
The then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, made waves in September 2015 when he called Burisma corrupt and alleged that Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office was blocking efforts to fight corruption.
Pyatt specifically called for an investigation into those inside the Prosecutor-General’s Office who he believed obstructed efforts to go after the tens of millions of dollars in “illicit assets” that Zlochevskiy had held in Britain, arguing that “those responsible for subverting the case” against Zlochevskiy “should — at a minimum — be summarily terminated.”
The Guardian reported in 2017 on how the case tied to the seizure of $23 million from bank accounts belonging to companies controlled by Zlochevsky collapsed.
In his memoir, Beautiful Things, Hunter Biden claimed that Zlochevsky “was concerned with protecting his company from Vladimir Putin’s advances” and thus “wanted to lure more U.S. and European investors, both as a way to grow his business and as a show of solidarity with the West.” Hunter wrote that Zlochevsky “wanted to ensure that Burisma’s business practices adhered to Western standards of corporate governance and transparency” and claimed that that was why he was hired. Hunter called the Burisma work “inspiring” and “consequential” while also admitting that “the pay was good” and that “there’s no question my last name was a coveted credential.”
In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that email exchanges between Blue Star and members of the Obama State Department “show that the consulting firm … used Hunter Biden’s name in a request for a State Department meeting and then mentioned him again during the meeting as part of an effort to improve Burisma’s image in Washington.”
Tramontano testified before the Senate in August 2020, where she was pressed on whether she intended to influence U.S. policy toward Burisma when she met with State Department officials, to which she said, “I did not.” Tramontano testified that when Archer approached her to help Burisma, he did not bring up Hunter Biden’s role on the board, which she said she didn’t learn about until later.
She said Burisma was “concerned about the allegations that Ambassador Pyatt had made.”
A spokesperson for DOJ told the Washington Examiner that “the department declines to comment.”
Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. Chuck Grassley released a joint report in September 2020, with much of its focus on Joe Biden’s role helping guide the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy while Hunter Biden was on the Burisma board, which the Republicans said “created an immediate potential conflict of interest.”
Burisma was an issue that former President Donald Trump raised during his July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that subsequently led to impeachment in the Democrat majority House and acquittal in the GOP-led Senate.
The GOP senators sought to stave off accusations of disinformation by pointing out that “the Democrats’ personification of Russian disinformation,” Andrii Telizhenko, also “met with Obama administration officials, including Elisabeth Zentos, a member of Obama’s National Security Council, at least 10 times” and that “a Democrat lobbying firm, Blue Star Strategies, contracted with Telizhenko from 2016 to 2017 and continued to request his assistance as recent as the summer of 2019.”
Telizhenko is a former official at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who went on to work with former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The Justice Department executed a search warrant in April at the New York City home and office of Giuliani, who has been eyed by federal authorities on whether he illegally lobbied the previous administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainians while searching for damaging information on Biden. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, called the search “legal thuggery.”