Deep corruption: Senators say Hunter Biden-connected Blue Star Strategies filed ‘misleading’ info to resolve lobbying probe

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WASHINGTON, DC – How convenient. It seems that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department may have closed an investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign lobbying connections a little prematurely.

The consultants, Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter, founders of Blue Star Strategies, may have misled the Department of Justice about their lobbying activities, two Republican senators claim.

Tramontano and Painter had been under investigation for lobbying efforts on behalf of Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company that paid Biden a small monthly fortune to sit on its board of directors despite Biden having no experience in the industry.

 

The probe was closed without charges last week, a win for Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation over tax activity and foreign business dealings. His relationship with Burisma has raised conflict-of-interest concerns because his father, Joe Biden, was then-President Barrack Obama’s chief negotiator with Ukraine. Burisma paid Hunter Biden and a business partner more than $80,000 a month to serve on its the board.

Congressional Republicans have said they plan to drill down on Hunter Biden’s activities if they retake the House and Senate.

Hunter Biden was instrumental in setting up a deal in late 2015 between Burisma and the consultants to polish Burisma’s reputation amid a $23 million drilling-rights bribery investigation of owner Mykola Zlochevsky.

Now Tramontano and Painter are being accused by two Republican senators of misleading a Department of Justice that had no stomach for an in-depth investigation into the web of connections.

Blue Star Strategies disclosed May 17 that Tramontano and Painter had two meetings in 2016 with State Department officials regarding Burisma Holdings.

 

That’s nine short of the actual known number, according to Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Grassley and Johnson wrote Garland:

“It appears that Blue Star Strategies’ top executives, Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter, filed incomplete and misleading information with the Department of Justice.

The senators backed up their claim with records from their investigation into Biden and Blue Star’s lobbying work for Burisma.

The younger Biden recruited Painter and Tramontano in Nov. 2015 to consult for Burisma and Zlochevsky. It is unclear what further role Hunter Biden played but the arrangement has come under scrutiny because of Joe Biden’s official role in anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

 

The senators’ findings raise questions over the Justice Department’s decision to close the investigation. Both Painter and Tramontano have deep connections within Washington, having served in the Clinton administration. A lawyer for the consultants said prosecutors closed the investigation after Blue Star disclosed the two 2016 meetings in a filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Painter and Tramontano disclosed to the Justice Department that they met with State Department officials Amos Hochstein and Catherine Novelli in 2016 to discuss Burisma. The intent was to feel out the U.S. government’s position toward the firm.

Grassley and Johnson detailed nine other meetings, from 2015 to 2019, between Blue Star and officials from the State Department, Commerce Department and Energy Department.

The senators asked Garland whether the Department of Justice was aware of the meetings and whether the agency plans to address the incomplete filings. They told Garland:

“DOJ must scrutinize Blue Star Strategies’ recently filed [FARA] forms given the firm’s apparent incomplete disclosures and its lack of consistency with our investigative records.”

Painter and Tramontano have smoothed the way for Burisma with at least one other arrangement that was not disclosed to the Justice Department. In 2017, the consultants arranged a partnership between Burisma and the Atlantic Council, a Beltway foreign policy think tank.

For $300,000, Atlantic Council granted Burisma access to its energy conferences and other policy events. State Department officials apparently cautioned Atlantic Council about Burisma prior to the arrangement, citing U.S. concerns over the Ukrainian firm’s reputation.

Blue Star Strategies resolved the DOJ case in part by retroactively registering as a foreign agent of Burisma. Hunter Biden has not registered as a foreign agent of Ukraine even though he discussed Burisma with Amos Hochstein, the same State Department official who met with Blue Star.

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Deep corruption: Criminal probe magically ends for firm that helped Hunter Biden’s client, but raises new questions

May 19, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC – President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice investigation into a Washington lobbying firm connected to his son, Hunter Biden, has been closed because the agency did not find any evidence of wrongdoing.

According to Peter Kadzik, the lawyer for the CEO of the lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies, there is no longer a federal criminal investigation against the firm.

Last week, Blue Star Strategies filed a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) report that was actually due six years ago.

FARA requires U.S. firms to disclose the names of foreign clients on whose behalf they lobby the government.

Blue Star Strategies’ filed report admitted it was a foreign agent and held several undisclosed meetings in 2016 with the U.S. State Department during the Obama-Biden administration.

The firm helped Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian gas client, the controversial Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.

Zlochevsky owned Burisma Holdings, an oil and natural gas company that was founded in 2002. The oligarch has been the subject of fraud investigations, but has never been convicted.

In 2014, Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma, earning a reported monthly salary of $50,000.

With the very late filing of the FARA report, Blue Star Strategies will no longer face a penalty, according to Kadzik.

However, as the criminal investigation against Hunter Biden continues, questions are once again being raised as to why Blue Star Strategies only recently disclosed the meetings it held in 2016.

The meetings allegedly were about the corruption cases in Ukraine and Great Britain involving Burisma Holdings and its owner Zlochevsky.

In addition, there appears to be conflicting testimony that was made in 2020 by Blue Star Strategies’ partners, which included Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano.

The Washington Post reported that Senate Republicans requested information from Tramontano in December of 2019 and that she ended up sitting for an interview in August of 2020 with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees:

“As part of their call in 2019 for the State Department to release documents on Burisma’s dealings in Washington, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, cited a State Department email suggesting that Tramontano made note of ‘two high-profile U.S. citizens (including Hunter Biden as a board member) affiliated with the company’ when requesting a meeting with a U.S. official.

“Tramontano told Senate investigators she had not used Hunter Biden’s name to secure meetings with U.S. officials. She also said she was not intending to influence U.S. policy when engaging with those officials and that none of her meetings resulted in policy changes toward Ukraine. A spokeswoman for Tramontano declined to offer additional comment beyond the attorney’s statement.”

The Washington Post’s same report also noted that the DOJ declined to comment on the now-closed investigation:

“The conclusion of the probe, which has not been previously reported, involved the firm submitting a new filing with the Justice Department detailing its lobbying activities on behalf of Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, in 2015 and 2016. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

“Blue Star Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs consultancy that touts its work for major corporations and foreign governments, took Burisma as a client in November 2015, according to testimony provided in 2020 by the firm’s CEO, Karen Tramontano, to Senate investigators.

“Tramontano has maintained that the firm did not coordinate its activities with the younger son of then-Vice President Biden, who was on Burisma’s board at the time. Blue Star’s service to Burisma involved a ‘range of government, public affairs, and legal services,’ she told Senate Republicans in response to a December 2019 letter, which included ‘discussions with appropriate government and non-governmental organizations regarding Ukraine’s energy security needs.’

“At the time, Blue Star Strategies did not disclose its work for Burisma as part of filings required of ‘certain agents of foreign principals’ under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“Tramontano’s attorney, Peter J. Kadzik, said the firm ‘fully cooperated’ with the DOJ probe, the existence of which was reported last year by Politico, which said one focus of the federal investigation was whether the lobbying shop had failed to comply with disclosure requirements.”

The Washington Post further reported that the DOJ appeared to provide “guidance” to Blue Star Strategies in terms of the firm’s May 12 FARA filing:

“The new filing, stamped May 12 and made ‘pursuant to guidance from DOJ personnel,’ involves the firm ‘adding retroactively a foreign principal for a specific and limited time in 2016.’

“The foreign principal was Zlochevsky, the Burisma owner and former ecology and natural resources minister under Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who was forced into exile in 2014.

“An exhibit submitted with the filing states that Blue Star Strategies ‘was asked in 2016 to help schedule meetings with U.S. Government officials so counsel for Mr. Zlochevsky could present an explanation of certain adverse proceedings in the U.K. and Ukraine involving Mr. Zlochevsky.’ 

“The firm scheduled two such meetings, the exhibit continues, and a firm representative accompanied Zlochevsky’s counsel to the meetings. The firm received a monthly retainer of $30,000 in March and April of 2016, according to the filing, ‘a small portion of which was allocated to scheduling a meeting for Mr. Zlochevsky’s attorney.’” 

While the DOJ has cleared one lobbying firm of any wrongdoing, it has filed a FARA-related suit this week against casino magnate Steve Wynn, who is a billionaire.

The DOJ has alleged Wynn failed to disclose work on behalf of the government of China when he personally lobbied former President Donald Trump while he was in office.

The Daily Mail reported:

“The contacts were over a 2017 effort to extradite Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, who faced a litany of charges that he fiercely denies and was forced to flee Beijing‘s government in 2014.”

ABC News reported:

“The Justice Department is suing Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn to compel him to register as a foreign agent for the People’s Republic of China because of alleged lobbying he did on behalf of the Chinese government during the Trump administration.

“The civil lawsuit targeting Wynn outlines his alleged efforts in 2017 to push then-President Donald Trump and senior members of his administration to deport a Chinese businessman living in New York at the request of China’s Vice Minister of the Ministry of Public Security, Sun Lijun.

“The Chinese businessman had been charged with corruption in China and had sought political asylum in America, according to court documents.”

According to ABC News, the DOJ said Wynn conveyed the request to Trump over dinner and by phone. Trump then allegedly said he would look into the situation, according to the DOJ’s lawsuit.

The DOJ also acknowledged that the Chinese national was never deported.

Wynn’s legal team told ABC News it was planning to fight the DOJ’s lawsuit.

Wynn attorneys Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig said in the statement to ABC:

“Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”

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