Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers conducting the impeachment inquiry last year that she did not receive a briefing at the embassy in Kiev about the sticky issues surrounding the Ukrainian gas firm tied to former Vice President Joe Biden, but newly released documents show the opposite was true.
State Department documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request include a string of emails in September 2016 between embassy officials, including Yovanovitch, to coordinate a briefing about Burisma, its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, and the effort to rehabilitate their collective image. The effort included the hiring of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son.
“Once you arrived in country did the embassy staff brief you on issues relating to Burisma,” Yovanovitch was asked in November last year.
“No, it was not,” she replied. “I don’t recall that I was briefed on that. But I was drinking from a fire hose when I arrived. I mean, there were a lot of things that were going on.”
Despite the testimony, the new documents show that Yovanovitch received a briefing about Burisma and issues tied to the Bidens on Sept. 21, 2016. The briefing was arranged in response to a hand-delivered letter from Burisma’s U.S. representative, John Buretta from a law firm named Cravath, Swaine & Moore. In the letter, Buretta pointed to a Ukrainian court decision to consider Zlochevsky a witness rather than a suspect in a criminal case. After citing other evidence favorable to Burisma and Zlochevsky, Buretta implored Yovanovitch to take negative reports about the gas giant with a grain of salt.
Yovanovitch forwarded the letter to George Kent, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy asking, “What is this about?”
Kent responded, “This is further to the Blue Star effort to rehabilitate the reputation of their non-client in the U.S., former Ministry of Ecology Zlochevsky, who clearly has retained the services of a blue chip law firm (Cravath), and his energy company Burisma, which in turn has Hunter Biden on its board.”
Kent then offered to provide a briefing by two persons whose names are redacted in the documents “on the background of the Zlochevsky case and the US effort therein … so you can separate what the US position on this set of circumstances is, as opposed to paid legal counsel.”
The request triggered a string of scheduling emails which listed the topic as “Zlochevsky/Burisma—asset recovery and past crimes of the Yanu regime as they intersect U.S. corporate/individual interest,” an apparent reference to Hunter Biden.
The briefing was not the only encounter with Burisma which Yovanovitch omitted mentioning during the impeachment hearings. The documents show that she met with Burisma’s informal representative, Karen Tramontano from the Blue Star Strategies firm, on Dec. 8, 2016. The topline of the briefing checklist described Tramontano as an “Atlantic Council member and Washington veteran” who “informally represents Mykola Zlochevsky, the Burisma CEO who has long been the target of law enforcement proceedings in Ukraine.”
Kent also received a request to meet Yovanovitch from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst to “discuss Ukraine in general, but also Mr. Nicolai Zlochevsky, who owns Burisma, one of Ukraine’s most significant natural gas producers.” The meeting was pitched by Geysha Gonzalez with the Atlantic Council, which would go on to accept a donation from Burisma in January 2017.
The contradiction about the briefing isn’t the only one brought to light by the documents. Yovanovitch told lawmakers that Burisma “just wasn’t a big deal,” yet the documents show the embassy was paying attention to news reports related to the firm, discussing allegations that came up and flagging mentions of the connection to the Bidens.
The Senate ultimately exonerated President Donald Trump of the impeachment charges against him brought by House Democrats, who alleged that he abused his power by asking the president of Ukraine to look into Burisma and the Bidens.