DOJ Probing Lobbying Firm Over Work for Burisma (Dreamstime)
By Theodore Bunker | Thursday, 03 June 2021 10:57 AM
The Justice Department is reportedly investigating a lobbying and consulting firm with ties to President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, over its work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, according to Politico.
Sources told Politico that the DOJ is looking into Blue Star Strategies, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm founded by former Clinton administration members that accepted Burisma as a client while Hunter Biden was sitting on the company's board. This investigation reportedly involves the Delaware U.S. Attorney's Office, which is also investigating Hunter Biden for possible tax violations, and the DOJ's National Security Division. Two of Politico's sources said that the investigation into Blue Star Strategies has involved some grand jury activity, but the sources did not specify what that meant.
They did note that one area the probe is focusing on is the possibility that the company did not follow the necessary disclosure requirements laid out by the Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA], which says that Americans working to lobby or do public affairs work on behalf of a foreign official or political party must disclose it. Blue Star reportedly did not disclose their work for Burisma, which Politico says began in November 2015, more than a year after British officials seized millions from the energy firm's founder, former Ukrainian natural resources minister Mykola Zlochevsky.
British law enforcement seized more than $20 million from Zlochevsky in April 2014, though a British judge ruled in January 2015 that he could get his money back after Ukraine's prosecutor's office sent a letter saying that Zlochevsky is not under investigation in the country, according to The Guardian.
Later that year, then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt criticized the prosecutor's office for intervening and said Burisma was corrupt. Burisma approached Blue Star after Pyatt's comments.
Politico notes that there is nothing to suggest that Hunter Biden is the target of the probe into the lobbying firm, and that the co-founder of Blue Star, Karen Tramontano, testified that while she knew Hunter Biden as an acquaintance before they took on Burisma as a client, she did not know he was on the board at that time and he did not direct the firm's work for the energy company. Devon Archer, an associate of Hunter Biden who co-founded an investment firm with him and sat on Burisma's board with him, was the one to link the energy company with the lobbying firm, according to testimony from Tramontano.
Congressional testimony also says as part of their work for Burisma, Blue Star's co-founders met with U.S. government officials despite not having disclosed their lobbying for Burisma, which a former top Justice Department official warned could place them in legal jeopardy.
"The Justice Department could arguably assess that the lobbying firm was engaged in 'political activities' under FARA creating a facial obligation to register," said David Laufman, former chief of the Justice Department's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, which oversees FARA, from 2014 to 2018.
He added: "But the firm also might qualify for an exemption from registration if it was acting solely on behalf of the business interests of Burisma, neither the Ukrainian government nor any Ukrainian political party had anything to do with the firm's activities in the United States, and the firm's outreach to the State Department or other U.S. agencies was not directly promoting the public or political interests of the Ukrainian government or a Ukrainian political party."
Laufman, now a partner at the law firm Wiggin and Dana, also noted that "Justice Department enforcement of FARA is now considerably more rigorous, seen not only in high-profile criminal prosecutions but also in day-to-day regulatory enforcement such as administrative inquiries into why parties are not registered, accountability for deficiencies in filings, and inspections of books and records. The risks of non-compliance with FARA are therefore greater than in years past."
Politico notes that the deputy chief executive of Burisma and an attorney representing Zlochevsky and Burisma declined to comment.