The Real Scandal of Ukrainegate: Corrupt Partisan Journalism


The recent reports of President Donald Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while not implicating impeachment-worthy crimes, could have been the focus of a meaningful civic discussion about the interplay of foreign policy and domestic politics. But instead, the story devolved into one more finger-pointing partisan mess, fueled by dishonest, accusatory journalism.

Trump stands accused of using foreign aid for political ends, but without any discussion of either legitimate American interests in remedying Ukrainian corruption, or of the recent bipartisan history of those efforts.

Is leveraging foreign aid a proper means of encouraging appropriate action by the recipient? While our history after World War II beginning with the Marshall Plan would strongly support an affirmative response, we, in fact, need look back no further than March 2016, and yes, to Ukraine.

It was then and there that Vice President Joe Biden bragged about withholding $1 billion in foreign aid guarantees to force Ukraine to fire its chief corruption prosecutor. Putting aside Biden’s own seeming personal corruption, certainly no one has argued that such leveraging of U.S. aid in and of itself was improper.

But the mainstream media has not raised this comparison when loudly decrying Trump’s withholding of foreign aid to encourage desired Ukrainian anti-corruption action on Biden.

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Moreover, this same media has reflexively been assuming that any political damage to Biden thereby would amount to “interference in the 2020 election.” There is no doubt that highlighting Biden’s corruption would hurt him and help Trump in a 2020 matchup.

But the media has avoided the more significant question about whether a political figure is immune from a proper investigation merely because he or she is a political candidate.

Again, that question appears to have been answered by recent American history. Years were spent investigating presidential candidate Donald Trump, with assistance from the DNC and opposing candidate Hillary Clinton, reaching out for help from at least four foreign countries: the U.K.; Australia; Russia; Ukraine; and perhaps a fifth, Italy.

If such an investigation of Trump was arguably proper (assuming its absurd predicate was, in fact, legitimate), why wouldn’t our vaunted media open a dialogue focused on this apt comparison? Most likely because it would harm its partisan agenda.

But unlike Russiagate, ostensibly based on allegedly sound intelligence, didn’t Trump simply target Biden on his own subjective, partisan initiative?

The answer to this question implicates the media in stunning, intentional dishonesty. Unspoken in recent sensational reporting is that Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s corruption prosecutor, reached out to Trump, not vice versa, by contacting personal attorney Rudy Giuliani during his defense of Trump in Russiagate.

Lutsenko complained that U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, an Obama holdover, had imposed an informal “do not prosecute” list preventing Lutsenko from investigating, yes, Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden. This and other related lurid details have thus far been concealed by a media claiming that it seeks to hold our politicians accountable.

On April 14, 2014, the British government successfully sought a London court to impound $23 million of funds deposited in London by Burisma Holdings on the theory that it represented looting by the corrupt former Russian-backed Ukrainian government. Vice President Biden had just been appointed to spearhead American anti-corruption efforts on Ukraine, and soon Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at a joint press conference with Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May as a joint show of support for these efforts, very much targeting Russia.

But a mere four days after this seizure, on April 18, 2014, Burisma Holdings (controlled by corrupt former government officials) announced the hiring of Hunter Biden, at compensation variously reported as $50,000 and $83,000 per month, for “corporate governance” services. Soon the Ukrainian government ceased cooperating with the British seizure and the British court was forced to release the funds to Burisma in 2015.

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Does this sound corrupt? Apparently not to American journalists, who meanwhile decry the supposedly “damning” allegations against Trump. CNN, in reporting on Trump’s request to Zelensky, flashed for several seconds on screen a “Fact Check” to the effect that everything Joe Biden and Hunter Biden had done regarding Ukraine was perfectly proper, omitting, of course, the above details and Joe Biden’s procuring the firing of an anti-Burisma prosecutor. On Oct. 6, 2019, a front-page article in the New York Times declares flatly: “There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son in Ukraine.”

Had the mainstream media shown minimum diligence and honesty, the current imbroglio could have been an enlightened public discussion. But that would have been boring, and, worse, would have honestly informed the American public of facts the corrupt partisan media did not want our citizens to know.

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John D. O’Connor is the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the new book, “Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism,” the co-author of “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” and is a producer of the 2017 film of the same name, written and directed by Peter Landesman.