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Former Vice President Joe Biden is facing new scrutiny over his past comments and actions in Ukraine, including bragging that he pressured the country to fire its top prosecutor, who happened to be leading a corruption investigation of a natural gas company that employed his son Hunter Biden.
The focus on Biden's past comes on the heels of at least two women stepping forward with accusations of improper physical contact by the nation's former No. 2, potentially hurting his 2020 presidential election chances, though he still hasn’t formally announced his run for the White House.
If Biden ultimately decides to enter the race, he may also have to answer questions about Ukraine. Aside from the matter involving the top prosecutor were comments regarding Ukrainian women -- Biden once told then-President Viktor Yushchenko during a state visit that they were “the most beautiful women in the world."
"That's my observation," Biden continued. "It's certain you have so many beautiful women."
"That's my observation. It's certain you have so many beautiful women."
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But Biden's role in the firing of Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2016, after Shokin as part of a corruption probe targeted a natural gas firm that hired Biden's son two years earlier, could prove a bigger issue.
Last year, during a Council on Foreign Relations event, Biden told the audience that he pressed President Petro Poroshenko to fire the country’s top prosecutor, including threatening to withdraw a $1 billion U.S. loan from the country, which has been economically decimated due to its war with Russian forces since 2014.
“I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden said he told Poroshenko.
“I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ ... I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.'”
“Well, son of a b----, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time,” Biden added.
While the fired prosecutor was reportedly criticized back then by both Ukrainians and international officials for not bringing enough corruption prosecutions, the prosecutor also worked on a corruption probe that implicated the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings, a company that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member, The Hill reported.
Shokin told The Hill that he had made “specific plans” for the probe, including “interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
“I would like to emphasize the fact that presumption of innocence is a principle in Ukraine,” he added.
A representative for Joe Biden did not respond to a request for comment for this report; neither did a representative at Hunter Biden's current company.
Hunter Biden, now 49, is the younger son of the former vice president, whose elder son Beau died of cancer in 2015.
The probe ended shortly after Shokin was fired, and no charges were filed against any individuals of the company. Prosecutors apparently weren't able to obtain required documents by the deadline.
But according to the Hill, General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko reopened the case in 2018 following Biden’s remarks at the event, with the prosecutor saying that the evidence in the case may be of interest to U.S. authorities.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Biden had correlated and connected this aid with some of the HR (personnel) issues and changes in the prosecutor’s office,” Lutsenko told the outlet.
Ukraine experts previously warned that Biden’s son's involvement in the company undercut the Obama administration’s anti-corruption message in Ukraine. Biden was also aware of his son’s dealings months, if not years, before the supposed warning to the Ukrainian president.
“Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer,” Kate Bedingfield, then-spokeswoman for the vice president, told the New York Times at the time.
“The vice president does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company. The vice president has pushed aggressively for years, both publicly with groups like the U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum and privately in meetings with Ukrainian leaders, for Ukraine to make every effort to investigate and prosecute corruption in accordance with the rule of law.”