WASHINGTON — President Biden welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House on Wednesday — and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted that first son Hunter Biden’s well-paid work in the poor post-Soviet country would not be discussed by the leaders.
Biden and Zelensky took no questions from reporters after exchanging pleasantries in the Oval Office. They then met privately for nearly two hours.
Biden’s predecessor President Donald Trump was impeached by House Democrats in 2019 for asking Zelensky to look into Hunter Biden’s reported $83,000 per month position on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, despite no relevant industry experience.
He was later acquitted in the Senate.
Psaki curtly gave a single-word answer — “no” — when National Public Radio reporter Scott Detrow asked her during her daily press briefing if Biden intended to discuss his son’s work with Zelensky.
Detrow asked Psaki, “The events, the demands, the phone calls that led up to the 2019 impeachment — I’m just wondering, did they factor in any way in the way the White House prepared for this meeting, specifically the fact that Hunter Biden was a key part of those conversations with the last administration and Zelensky? And did President Biden expect in any way, shape or form to address that dynamic in today’s meeting?”
The first son, who is currently offering to sell his novice artworks to anonymous buyers for up to $500,000, joined Burisma’s board in 2014 while his then-vice president father led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. He reportedly left the company in 2019.
Hunter Biden’s reported income of nearly $1 million per year for advising Burisma came despite Ukraine’s intense poverty. The country’s annual per capita GDP is less than $4,000, according to World Bank data.
The White House daily schedule said Biden intended to discuss with Zelensky “our backing for [his] efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values.”
But there was no mention of corruption during a brief press availability in the Oval Office.
The president’s involvement with his son’s overseas business deals often is murky. But The Post reported in October that an email recovered from a laptop formerly belonging to Hunter Biden indicated he introduced his father to a Burisma executive in 2015 — despite Biden’s 2019 claim that “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.”
The Biden campaign said last year that no such meeting happened as described, but this year The Post published additional records indicating that the visiting Burisma exec likely met Biden at Cafe Milano in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood at a dinner with various other foreign business partners of the then-second son also in attendance.
The public portion of Biden’s meeting with Zelensky contained familiar foreign policy themes and made little news.
Biden vowed that the US was “firmly committed” to Ukraine’s independence in the face of “Russian aggression.”
“The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression,” Biden said at the start of the long-awaited meeting with Zelensky.
“Today we’re going to discuss how the US can continue to support Ukraine as it advances its democratic reforms agenda,” he said.
Biden did not answer shouted questions about Afghanistan, even amid fierce criticism of his handling of the US military withdrawal and a leaked phone call he had with ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in which he asked Ghani to create the “perception” that the Taliban weren’t winning, “whether it’s true or not.”
Biden’s meeting with Zelensky was quietly postponed two days ago as a result of the chaotic exit of US troops from Afghanistan.
In 2019, Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden and his son for alleged corruption as Zelensky asked for a White House invitation. The Senate later acquitted him of abuse of power.
Zelensky on Wednesday pushed Biden for increased military aid, COVID-19 vaccine donations and backing for Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership.
“I would like to discuss with President Biden here his vision, his government’s vision of Ukraine’s chances to join NATO and the timeframe for this accession, if it is possible,” Zelensky said in the Oval Office.