While I believe the current admin’s attempt to initiate an investigation into the Bidens’ Ukraine dealings was nothing but a political maneuver, what I’m more interested in is why most don’t consider Hunter’s lucrative position on the Burisma board to be an issue.

I know that some supporters of the current admin still vocally consider this to be a problem, but I do not believe their motives have anything to do with the desire to root corruption. However, what I don’t understand is why many in the MSM and Biden’s own party don’t see this as at least a major conflict of interest.

I don’t necessarily think that Biden’s withholding of support in order to press for the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor was related to the Burisma investigation, and in this question I’m not really interested in considering that aspect.

  • 1
    I’ve rolled back your edit because the addition of all that other information and opinion brought this squarely into the realm of a push-question. If you have an opinion on this, just post a self answer or comment on the answers with your concerns
    – divibisan
    Nov 25, 2019 at 3:23
  • @divibisan That's fair. I'll make another question on the legal aspects of the Federal Government's conflict of interest handling.
    – joshperry
    Nov 26, 2019 at 19:50

4 Answers 4


It depends what you mean by "problem". For example, Reuters presents it this way:

In an interview with ABC News aired Tuesday, Hunter Biden said in retrospect it may have been poor judgment to join Burisma’s board while his father was vice president, but added: “Did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.”

Biden, in the interview added that he didn’t discuss his business dealings in Ukraine with his father, other than one brief exchange in which his father told him “I hope you know what you’re doing.”


Lutsenko, who succeeded Shokin as Ukraine’s prosecutor general in 2016, took over a tax investigation into Burisma before closing the case ten months later, after the company had paid a settlement in relation to the tax investigation.

The former prosecutor said that any issues Burisma did have were not related to Biden. In addition to the closed tax investigation, Ukraine authorities opened an investigation into licenses awarded to Burisma and a separate money-laundering probe into founder Zlochevsky. Both of these have been re-opened in recent months, but neither relate to the period after Biden joined the board.

So basically, besides Hunter's poor judgement (that Kent has described as an "appearance of a conflict of interest") the MSM says that the Ukrainian investigations into Burisma were not into any matter that Hunter was personally involved with. I think that the witnesses in the impeachment hearings insofar have backed up this latter viewpoint as well (Kent included).

On the other hand, Vox is more critical on the "poor judgement" part calling it "a kind of soft corruption":

Hunter Biden isn’t a natural gas expert, and he’s not a Ukraine expert. But he was son of the then vice president of the United States. And that’s why he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sit on Burisma’s board — among others. The New Yorker’s investigation, which predates the revelation of Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, put it well:

Several former officials in the Obama Administration and at the State Department insisted that Hunter’s role at Burisma had no effect on his father’s policies in Ukraine, but said that, nevertheless, Hunter should not have taken the board seat. As the former senior White House aide put it, there was a perception that “Hunter was on the loose, potentially undermining his father’s message.” The same aide said that Hunter should have recognized that at least some of his foreign business partners were motivated to work with him because they wanted “to be able to say that they are affiliated with Biden.” A former business associate said, “The appearance of a conflict of interest is good enough, at this level of politics, to keep you from doing things like that.”

It wasn’t illegal for Hunter Biden to take that job. But Hunter Biden himself has admitted it was “poor judgment.” It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as the $675,000 Hillary Clinton took for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs: not illegal, but a kind of soft corruption that voters find loathsome.

Clinton and Biden both make the same argument: The money — in Clinton’s case direct, in Biden’s case to his son — didn’t affect their decisions. I believe Biden on this. But these are huge sums and represent a kind of DC back-scratching and influence-trading that voters dislike. Getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing basically no work is a rare gift, and the cost of accepting that gift or of letting a family member accept it is it can be used against you in a future election.

None of this is news to Biden. As the Intercept’s Ryan Grim documented, Biden has faced attacks for decades over not just Hunter’s work, but his brother James’s efforts to cash in on his name, so he knew this was a vulnerability long before Burisma. Biden’s answer here seems to have been to create a personal firewall about the topics he’d discuss with Hunter. “I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything having do with Ukraine,” he said. “No one has indicated I have. We kept everything separate.”

I don't know why you think it should be called a "major conflict of interest" though. Major conflict between what interests?

Actually, The Nation (which more left-wing than Biden or even Vox perhaphs) did call it nearly in the terms you want "a conflict of interest ipso facto", and back in May:

Joe Biden’s Conflict of Interest on Ukraine [...]

The problem – indeed, the only reason we’re discussing this three years later – is that Hunter Biden should’ve never joined Burisma’s board to begin with. His decision to do so displays a lack of judgement on the part of both Bidens, one that is relevant now that Joe Biden is running for president.

[...] What services Hunter provided to Burisma remains unclear, but at one point he was making as much as $50,000 a month. That, in itself, should’ve raised red flags. Indeed, it had.

Hunter Biden joined Burisma in 2014, two years before his father gleefully pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin. That inherently problematic decision was immediately covered by Western media, including the BBC. It was further highlighted by a 2015 Times editorial, which stated: “It should be plain to Hunter Biden that any connection with a Ukrainian oligarch damages his father’s efforts to help Ukraine. This is not a board he should be sitting on.”

And yet, the Bidens seem reluctant to address the situation: both men told the Times Hunter’s involvement with Burisma wasn’t an issue because they don’t discuss personal business dealings. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Trump family claims the same thing about their business interactions.) Unfortunately, that’s not how conflicts of interest work.

The vice-president’s son landed a questionable – and lucrative – sinecure in an economically unstable nation that played a key role in US foreign policy and was heavily-dependent on Western aid. This created a conflict of interest ipso facto, regardless of intentions.

The same article in The Nation does criticize later on the more lenient conclusions in two other articles, one in the Washington Post and another in Mother Jones, respectively.

And (needless to say) on Fox News, Hunter Biden gets no quarter with articles reporting Trump's view on the matter extensively:

Hunter Biden's questionable past and business dealings could undo dad's bid for White House [...]

What's true is that Hunter Biden has become a punching bag for the White House and Trump's closest allies. The 49-year-old's controversial decision to accept a high-paying position at a gas company in Ukraine with little to no experience has become the backdrop of a whistleblower complaint against Trump and is reshaping the 2020 presidential race. Trump has repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of ethical lapses and profiting off his famous father's last name -- something Trump's own children have been widely criticized for doing.

Earlier this week, Trump tweeted, "Where's Hunter? He has totally disappeared! Now looks like he has raised and scammed even more countries! Media is AWOL."

The social media hits against the Bidens made by a sitting president have been relentless and somewhat shifted the focus of the investigation against Trump to an attack on Hunter Biden. [...]

But in the non-opinion articles, Fox dos sometimes point out the lack of evidence for some Trump allegations:

There have also been concerns about Hunter Biden's dealings with BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company. Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed that Biden used his father's position as vice president to secure $1.5 billion in loans for the Chinese private equity company, where he was a board member. There is currently no credible evidence to support the theory.

So at this point it comes down to what part of the press you want to call the MSM. It's probably unsurprising that the center-left media has been less critical of Hunter than either the more outwardly left-wing or the right-wing parts of the media.

  • 2
    Note that the Biden and Clinton case are different in another respect. Clinton took these actions herself. The actions of Hunter Biden were taken by an adult, related to VP Biden, but not under the control of VP Joe Biden. If we take these as the same, we could judge parents by their adult children's actions. That may set a weird precedent.
    – JJJ
    Nov 24, 2019 at 2:41
  • 5
    Vox characterized '$$ for no work' , Nation characterized '$$ for unclear work'. So what work did Hunter perform and how was that work different from Kwasniewski's (President of Poland) , Devon Archer, or more recently Joseph Cofer Black (of Blackwater fame) ?
    – BobE
    Nov 24, 2019 at 3:48
  • 5
    @BobE: Does sitting on the board of directors of ANY company involve actual work, or even require great knowledge of the company's business? Consider the number of celebrities, or leaders of civil rights groups, that get appointed to directorships.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 25, 2019 at 17:34
  • 2
    @jamesqf Most of which are appointed for exactly the same reason Hunter was: for PR and legitimacy reasons. You can't be oppressing black folks if you've got a black director! You can't be corrupt and evil any more if you've got a Biden on your board! To say he didn't earn the money is kind of naive, as that sort of stuff is worth a lot, and very few people can bring that from their mere existence. Whether he should have allowed himself to earn it is a rather more interesting question. Most people seem to be landing on the "no" side, at least publicly. Nov 26, 2019 at 2:44
  • 2
    The Gov's conflict of interest laws and regs clearly spell out that Hunter would have a "covered relationship" with VP Biden (see cfr §2635.502), and the VP did not consult with the GAO on a waiver to continue his interface with the Ukrainian govt. Burisma could not have conducted business and arguably gained a large amount of its influence in the country at the hand of the Ukrainian leadership, over which Biden had--and exercised--influence over. Given Hunter credentials, it seems that a reasonable party would have a perception of a conflict. ipso facto, the controversy we're talking about.
    – joshperry
    Nov 26, 2019 at 20:00

There is appearance of a conflict of interest

There were those that were concerned about "the appearance of a conflict of interest". For example Rep. Stefanik asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent during the first day of the impeachment hearings (as transcribed by rev.com):

Rep. Stefanik: (03:53) And you also testified that you were indeed concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest.

And Kent replied:

George Kent: (03:57) That’s correct.

There is no evidence of an actual conflict of interest nor is there evidence of official actions by VP Biden to benefit his son on the board of Burisma

The reason for the conflict of interest arises from Hunter's father being the US vice president. There could be a conflict of interest if Joe Biden the vice president used his Office of the Vice President to benefit his son in that position. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that this in fact happened. If there was such evidence, credible evidence, then that might be worth investigating.

Note that VP Biden's involvement in Ukraine was legitimate. The New York Times has an article on this, which illustrates how Biden urged the president to take action as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2014, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed President Barack Obama to take decisive action, and fast, to make Moscow “pay in blood and money” for its aggression. The president, a Biden aide recalled, was having none of it.

Mr. Biden worked Mr. Obama during their weekly private lunches, imploring him to increase lethal aid, backing a push to ship FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kiev. The president flatly rejected the idea and dispatched him to the region as an emissary, cautioning him “about not overpromising to the Ukrainian government,” Mr. Biden would later write in a memoir.

Skipping a bit further, the article goes on to Burisma: Within months, though, the State Department began suspecting that the office of Mr. Poroshenko’s first prosecutor general was accepting bribes to protect Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch owner of Burisma Holdings, the gas company where Hunter Biden was a board member. In a February 2015 meeting in Kiev with a deputy prosecutor, a State Department official named George P. Kent demanded to know “who took the bribe and how much was it?”

The prosecutor general was fired soon after. But it wasn’t long before the new prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was drawing allegations of corruption, including from State Department officials who suspected he was shaking down targets and intentionally slow-walking investigations to protect allies.

Mr. Giuliani has claimed, without evidence, that Mr. Biden’s push to oust Mr. Shokin was an attempt to block scrutiny of his son’s actions. In fact, Mr. Biden was just one of many officials calling for Mr. Shokin to go. Good-government activists were protesting his actions in the streets, as were eurozone power players like Christine Lagarde, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, along with Ms. Nuland and Senate Republicans.

“The position regarding getting rid of Shokin was not Vice President Biden’s position; it was the position of the U.S. government, as well as the European Union and international financial institutions,” said Amos J. Hochstein, former coordinator for international energy affairs at the State Department and one of the few administration officials who directly confronted Mr. Biden at the time about his son.

Other than mister Giuliani's unsupported allegation that VP Biden's push to oust prosecutor Shokin was an effort to protect his son, there appears to be nothing tying VP Biden's official actions to a conflict of interest with respect to his son's position on the board of Burisma.

To show that this was official US policy, let me quote form Ukrainian Reforms Two Years after the Maidan Revolution and the Russian Invasion as published by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. This was not a Democratic committee, it was a committee chaired by Republican Representative Bob Corker. As such, this seems to be a bipartisan position:

By late fall of 2015, the EU and the United States joined the chorus of those seeking Mr. Shokin’s removal as the start of an overall reform of the Procurator General’s Office. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke publicly about this before and during his December visit to Kyiv; but Mr. Shokin remained in place.


I guess the reason why others don't consider it problematic is because no one has identified what is problematic about it.

Was Burisma somehow under the direct control of the Ukranian government, which would make Joe Biden's contacts potentially some kind of conflict?

Were they under any kind of investigation that was influenced? That is the blatantly false claim, but, no, they absolutely were not. When they were under investigation, did that have anything to do with Hunter Biden? No. They were investigated for activities before he was ever involved, and those investigations were long closed before Joe Biden's activities in the Ukraine relating to getting rid of the former prosecutor.

If there was something hinkey going on, which there wasn't as far as anyone has been able to show, would removing a prosecutor known for turning a blind eye to corruption who had already closed the books on investigations into Burisma help, or hurt that company and Biden's son, potentially? I've yet to hear how this would do anything but put his son, if involved in skullduggery, at more risk.

Was Burisma competing for contracts with the US government? No, we have massive natural gas domestic production here.

The USA, as a world superpower, deals with every major government. Does that mean that family members can't be involved in any businesses in any foreign nations? How does this standard impact Trump's holdings, and his children's business dealings, which have gone on while they are active members of his administration, unlike Hunter Biden? How does this standard impact the direct financial benefit from foreign governments and the US government into Trump's holdings which are not held in any kind of blind trust?

This is a bit of whataboutism, but you need to look at who is screaming that there is something "fishy," what they claim is fishy about it, and whether they hold anyone else on the planet to that same standard.

What inappropriate benefit was Burisma gaining by Hunter being Joe Biden's son?

Is having high-profile board members particularly problematic for companies? Burisma asked Biden and another partner from his company to sit on the board AFTER they were investigated and had to pay fines to settle tax evasion claims. It's not uncommon for companies under a cloud to bring in high profile outsiders as a PR show that they aren't just being overseen by cronies of the company's C-suite.

Is six figure annual compensation out of the ordinary for major corporations (Hunter Biden was supposedly collecting about $600K per year from Burisma)?

  1. 21st Century Fox Inc average board member compensation $2.58 M per year
  2. Regenera Pharma $2.17M
  3. Incite Corp $1.13M
  4. Fidelity National Information Services $790K
  5. Roper Technologies Inc $974K
  6. Goldman Sachs $560K
  7. Coty Inc $790K
  8. GE $347K
  9. Phillip Morris $506K
  10. Everest Re Group Ltd $747K
  11. Vertex Pharma $658K

USA Today - 25 companies that bay their board of directors a shocking amount

Is anyone demanding a corruption investigation into any of those companies based on the fact that they pay their board members a princely sum?

If not, then what is so special about Hunter Biden sitting on a board of a company, and being paid for it?

Basically, what is being asked is "why don't we give serious credence to completely fabricated smears and dirt when offered without any kind of evidence?" The fact that this was trotted out as justification for potential law-breaking or abuse of office is all the more reason to demand some kind of factual backup to claims, before giving them any actual consideration. It's not like the media ignored the claims. They looked at them and found there was nothing to the claims, at all, so didn't spend any more time on it. That's why you can find so many different fact-check articles about the claims.

  • 1
    The last company on your list had a revenue of 3 billion in 2018, as compared to Burisma's 400 million. It would be strange for them to pay $600k in compensation given their significantly smaller revenues. Nov 26, 2019 at 0:43
  • @JonathanReezSupportsMonica - Not at all. Corporations pay their board members whatever they feel like paying them. There is no formula, there is nothing except for accountability to the owners. Burisma is privately held, and if their owner(s) is/are fine with it, it's fine. We have no idea what Koch industries or what other private companies pay their boards. And you don't know that their revenue is $400M, that's also not disclosed, it's estimated that it is at least that much. Biden was probably the or nearly the highest compensated member. The number for Vertex is average. Nov 26, 2019 at 0:58
  • 1
    "Not at all. Corporations pay their board members whatever they feel like paying them. There is no formula, there is nothing except for accountability to the owners" -> in this case, why does it matter if 21st Century Fox pays millions to its board members, since as you say it shouldn't be relevant at all? Nov 26, 2019 at 1:05
  • @JonathanReezSupportsMonica - I'm not making any claim that there is insidious corruption going on based on those numbers. I posted them as context as to whether board members being compensated in the six figure range is beyond the pale in some way. And, yes, I certainly think that's way too much for Biden to be compensated, and I think that's way too much for Fox board members to be compensated, but I'm not claiming it's out of the ordinary or proof of anything nefarious. That's kind of a bizarre response, to be honest. Why did you think I posted it, to demand that they all be investigated? Nov 26, 2019 at 1:11
  • No, my point is that either we take the comparison to Fox at face value and then compare the revenues of the two companies to see if paying $600k to a board member is reasonable or we say that private companies can pay whatever they want and then it doesn't matter if Fox pays their executives more or less than Burisma. Nov 26, 2019 at 1:16

Why is Hunter Biden’s position in Burisma not considered a problem?

I think that's a false premise. Hunter Biden's association with Burisma was considered enough of a "problem" that it elicited this NY Times article back in 2015:

Joe Biden, His Son and the Case Against a Ukrainian Oligarch


But the credibility of the vice president’s anticorruption message may have been undermined by the association of his son, Hunter Biden, with one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, who was Ukraine’s ecology minister under former President Viktor F. Yanukovych before he was forced into exile.

Hunter Biden, 45, a former Washington lobbyist, joined the Burisma board in April 2014. That month, as part of an investigation into money laundering, British officials froze London bank accounts containing $23 million that allegedly belonged to Mr. Zlochevsky.


But Edward C. Chow, who follows Ukrainian policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the involvement of the vice president’s son with Mr. Zlochevsky’s firm undermined the Obama administration’s anticorruption message in Ukraine.

“Now you look at the Hunter Biden situation, and on the one hand you can credit the father for sending the anticorruption message,” Mr. Chow said. “But I think unfortunately it sends the message that a lot of foreign countries want to believe about America, that we are hypocritical about these issues.”


Vice President Biden has played a leading role in American policy toward Ukraine as Washington seeks to counter Russian intervention in Eastern Ukraine. This week’s visit was his fifth trip to Ukraine as vice president.


“I’ve got to believe that somebody in the vice president’s office has done some due diligence on this,” said Steven Pifer, who was the American ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000. “I should say that I hope that has happened. I would hope that they have done some kind of check, because I think the vice president has done a very good job of sending the anticorruption message in Ukraine, and you would hate to see something like this undercut that message.”

So, if you're the New York Times, this falls under the "old news" category, which may explain any reluctance to cover it again.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .