On Fox News, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said he caught Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a lie to Congress about communicating with Hunter Biden via email. Johnson said Blinken ought to resign or be impeached.
It’s significant when a U.S. senator accuses a top Cabinet official of lying, but there is less to the accusation than Johnson suggests.
During a transcribed interview with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Finance committees in December 2020, Blinken was asked numerous questions about his relationship and interactions with President Joe Biden’s son Hunter while Blinken was serving as deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
It’s of interest to Republicans on the Senate committees because Hunter Biden at the time was serving on the board of Burisma Holdings Ltd., one of the biggest private oil and gas companies in Ukraine. Johnson and other Republicans have raised questions about whether that represented a conflict of interest for Joe Biden, then vice president, and whether Joe Biden may have altered U.S. policy to accommodate Burisma because his son was on the board. As we have written, there’s no evidence of that.
Blinken said he could recall only having one meeting with Hunter Biden, a lunch meeting at Blinken’s office at the State Department in July 2015, during which Blinken said they discussed the recent death of Hunter’s brother, Beau, and its effect on the family. Blinken said he couldn’t recall ever talking with Hunter Biden on the phone.
Blinken was then asked, “Did you have any other means of correspondence with him–emails, texts?”
“No,” Blinken said.
On April 30, Johnson said emails recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop, and released in media reports, now reveal Blinken’s statement was false. (The laptop had been abandoned at a Delaware computer repair store, and the shop owner turned it over to the FBI.) But the two emails cited as proof of Blinken’s deceit were exchanges of pleasantries related to the very meeting Blinken discussed in his December 2020 testimony.
In one email, Hunter Biden asked if the two men could meet, and in the other, after the meeting, Blinken says, “great to see you and catch up.”
Johnson says the “lie” about the emails calls into question all of Blinken’s testimony, in particular the claim that at the time he served in the Obama administration, he did not recall knowing that Hunter Biden even served on the Burisma board.
We reached out to the State Department press office regarding the issue, but did not receive a response. At a State Department press briefing on May 1, a reporter asked if the department had a response to Johnson’s allegation that Blinken lied to Congress. “This is not a State Department issue, and so I don’t have any comment for you on that from here,” Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson responded.
“What is interesting and here’s a little news for you,” Johnson told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on April 30, “Antony Blinken finally did come in and sit down for a voluntary transcribed interview in December of 2020 because he wanted to be secretary of state. And now because of more information that’s come out, we know that he lied boldface to Congress about never emailing Hunter Biden. My guess is he told a bunch of other lies.”
“He said he did not email Hunter Biden,” Johnson said. “And now we have those emails. We also know that his wife, using her private email address when she was an employee of the State Department, was basically a conduit between her husband and Hunter Biden as well. So, again, I think there’s so much more to uncover here.”
Bartiromo said Johnson was accusing Blinken of committing a felony, lying under oath to the Senate. Technically, Blinken wasn’t under oath. On Dec. 22, 2020, Blinken voluntary sat for an interview requested by Sens. Johnson and Chuck Grassley, who are heading up a Senate investigation into potential conflicts of interest or other alleged wrongdoing with regard to the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy or Burisma. However, it is a crime to “knowingly and willfully” provide Congress “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.” And, as was explained to Blinken, that applies to questions posed by congressional staff, as was the case in this interview.
In the December 2020 interview, Blinken said that while he served as deputy secretary of state from January 2015 to January 2017, he was not aware of Hunter Biden’s ties to Burisma when they met in July 2015. Biden had become a board member for the Burisma Group in May 2014, and he resigned from the board in 2019 when his father announced his run for president.
Blinken said that while he had “a friendly acquaintanceship” with Hunter Biden — having crossed paths on a “handful of occasions” over the years at Joe Biden’s home or vice presidential office and at some other social events — he never discussed any of Hunter’s “financial or business arrangements” with him, and specifically not his association with Burisma. Blinken said at the time, he did not know Hunter was on the Burisma board, though he came to later learn about that though media accounts.
That led to this exchange with Scott Wittmann, a senior professional staff member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee:
Blinken: So to the best of my recollection, I had one meeting with Hunter Biden, which was a lunch in my office at the State Department. I don’t recall any other meetings with him.
Wittman: Did you ever talk with him on the phone?
Blinken: Not that I recall.
Wittman: Did you have any other means of correspondence with him–emails, texts?
Blinken later went into detail about the lunch he had with Hunter Biden, after he was asked about a notation in his schedule about a meeting with Hunter Biden on May 27, 2015. Blinken said that meeting never took place, however, because Hunter’s brother, Beau Biden, was “on his death bed” and died several days later.
But the meeting was rescheduled for July 22, 2015. Blinken said Hunter Biden met him in his office at the State Department for lunch.
It was a little less than two months after Beau Biden died, Blinken said, “And we talked about his brother, about the effect the passing of his brother was having on the family, the effect it was having on then Vice President Biden. It was all about the loss the family had suffered and how they were coping with it.”
Blinken said it was the only thing he recalls talking to Hunter Biden about.
Wittman then asked if Blinken knew what Hunter Biden originally wanted to speak about in May of that year.
“I do not,” Blinken said.
Later in the interview, Blinken again asserted that he was not aware at the time that Hunter Biden became a board member for the Burisma in May 2014, even though it had been reported in the media. A June 2014 article in the Associated Press called Biden’s hiring “politically awkward.” Blinken acknowledged that the documents provided to him by the Senate committee included an article in the New York Times that noted Biden’s appointment to the Burisma’s board. (That article was published on Oct. 16, 2014.)
“I have no recollection of reading it at the time or discussing it with anyone,” Blinken said in his Senate interview. “It was in The New York Times so I probably read it. I simply don’t remember doing so. It left no impression with me if I did read it.”
This week, on May 1, Johnson and Grassley sent a letter to Blinken demanding that he preserve and provide all records related to his correspondence with Hunter Biden.
Emails obtained from Hunter’s laptop, they wrote, “have revealed that you did in fact email
Hunter Biden on at least two occasions, contradicting what you told congressional investigators.”
In a press release about the letter, Johnson and Grassley wrote, “Blinken’s blatant lie to Congress calls into question the veracity of his entire December 22, 2020 testimony, including his denial of having any awareness of Hunter Biden’s association with the corrupt Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings.”
In an interview on May 1 with Fox Business’ Larry Kudlow, who served as the director of the National Economic Council during the Trump administration, Johnson repeated the accusation that Blinken had “lied,” saying that he “should resign immediately or he should be impeached.”
The first of the two email exchanges occurred on May 22, 2015, when Hunter Biden sent an email to Blinken’s personal email address.
“Have a few minutes next week to grab a cup of coffee?” Biden wrote. “I know you are impossibly busy, but would like to get your advice on a couple of things.”
“Absolutely,” Blinken responded, adding that he was forwarding Biden’s message to his secretary to set up an appointment.
That tracks with Blinken’s testimony to the Senate committee in December 2020 that he had scheduled a meeting with Hunter Biden on May 27, 2015. Blinken said the meeting never happened, though.
The second email discovered by the committee was one Blinken sent from his personal email to Hunter Biden on July 22, 2015. In it, Blinken tells Biden it was “great to see you and catch up.”
“You will love this,” Blinken added, “After you left, Marjorie, the wonderful african american woman who sits in my outer office (and used to be Colin Powell’s assistant) said to me: ‘He sure is pleasant on the eyes.’ Tell you wife.”
This email also tracks with Blinken’s testimony that he met Hunter Biden for lunch at the State Department on July 22, 2015.
Again, the context of the interview was that Blinken had just said he recalled having one — and only one — meeting with Biden, the lunch meeting in Blinken’s office at the State Department. Wittman then asked Blinken if he ever talked with Biden on the phone — “Not that I recall,” he responded — and whether he had “any other means of correspondence with him — emails, texts.” Blinken said, “No.”
Conflict of Interest?
In their press release, Johnson and Grassley speculate that Blinken may not have been truthful about whether he was aware that Hunter Biden was serving on the Burisma board at the time of their meeting.
The suggestion is that Blinken may have been hiding his knowledge of that fact to cover for the Obama administration making foreign policy decisions related to Ukraine that would benefit Hunter Biden.
As we have written numerous times, Joe Biden traveled to Kyiv as vice president and, likely in late 2015, warned Ukraine’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, that the U.S. would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees until Ukraine removed its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who was widely viewed as corrupt.
At the time, the international community and anti-corruption advocates in Ukraine were also calling for Shokin to be removed from office for his failure to aggressively prosecute corruption.
In February 2016, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund also threatened to withhold $40 billion unless Ukraine undertook “a substantial new effort” to fight corruption.
Nonetheless, several Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have baselessly accused Joe Biden of seeking Shokin’s removal in order to help Hunter because, it was argued, Shokin was actively looking into corruption at Burisma.
Asked about that in his Senate testimony, Blinken said the Shokin situation “became a growing and deep concern across the United States government, with our allies and partners in Europe, with the international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that were supporting Ukraine, and indeed in Congress, on a bipartisan basis, that the Office of the Prosecutor General, and Mr. Shokin in particular, were sitting on corruption cases and possibly even aiding and abetting corruption.”
Blinken said it was “gratifying” that there was bipartisan support to get a change in the prosecutor general’s office in Ukraine. It was a viewpoint, he said, that was shared by Johnson.
During Blinken’s testimony, Zachary Schram, chief counsel for the Democrats on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked, “Did Vice President Biden alter United States government foreign policy concerning Ukraine to assist Burisma or his son?”
“He did not,” Blinken said.
Email from Blinken’s Wife
Johnson also accused Blinken’s wife, Evan Ryan, of acting as a “conduit” for communication between her husband and Hunter Biden. But here, too, there is less to the accusation than the Wisconsin senator suggests.
In their press release, Johnson and Grassley point to an email Hunter Biden sent to Ryan on July 14, 2016, in which he said that Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies — a political consulting firm hired by Burisma — had called the State Department and left a message. Ryan forwarded that information to Blinken, who asked for Tramontano’s phone number and said “I may call.”
“It seems highly unlikely that you had no idea of Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma while your wife was apparently coordinating with Hunter Biden to potentially connect you with Burisma’s U.S. representatives,” Johnson and Grassley wrote.
The Senate committees did not ask about that email exchange at the time of their interview with Blinken in December 2020, but he was asked about Blue Star.
Blinken said when he was serving as deputy secretary of state, he was not aware of Blue Star Strategies, though he has since come to know of their involvement with Burisma.
However, he said he knew both Tramontano and Painter.
“Ms. Tramontano was, I believe, the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration White House,” Blinken said. “I served on the staff of the National Security Council, so we knew each other going way back to the 1990s and our joint service in the White House at that time.”
Blinken said he also knew Painter going back to the 1990s, as they both served on a bipartisan committee for NATO.
An email from Painter on June 27, 2016, suggests she and Tramontano had a conversation with Blinken at a professional event and that they asked to meet with him “regarding some troubling events we are seeing in Ukraine.” Blinken said he did not believe they informed him they were working for Burisma.
Although there were some emails back and forth trying to set up a meeting, Blinken ultimately referred them to the State Department’s European Affairs Bureau, and he said he does not recall that he ever met with Painter or Tramontano.
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