Soon after Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer finished testifying before investigators working for the House Oversight Committee, two top House Republicans joined Sean Hannity’s Fox News program in prime time.
Archer’s testimony was enormously damaging to President Biden, they suggested, with House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) insisting that Archer’s testimony made the bribery allegation he’d first introduced two months ago “more credible.” That allegation centered on the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where Hunter Biden and Archer once sat on its board.
Archer “said that Hunter Biden was under immense pressure while they both served on the Burisma board to call Washington, D.C., immediately and try to get Shokin fired,” Comer told Hannity. “That’s the Ukrainian prosecutor. And not many days later, Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine” — a trip in which he called for Shokin’s ouster.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) reiterated this same claim a short while later, that after a Burisma board meeting in Dubai in early December 2015, Hunter Biden and Burisma executives “make a phone call to D.C. … I don’t know who they call, but they call D.C. And five days later, Dec. 9, 2015, Joe Biden is in Ukraine and he gives a speech starting the pressure on the prosecutor in Ukraine.”
All of this is tied together in the narrative that Comer and Jordan have been presenting: Burisma was being probed by prosecutor Viktor Shokin so they needed Hunter Biden to loop in his father, and his father obliged. The bribery claim asserts that Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma with whom Hunter Biden and Archer met, had paid millions to Biden and his father to help protect the company from Shokin.
On Thursday, the Oversight Committee released a transcript of Archer’s testimony — testimony for which Comer wasn’t present. What Archer said not only doesn’t comport with the presentations made by Comer and Jordan on television (which were obviously wrong from the outset), his testimony undermines the idea that Burisma wanted Shokin fired, that Zlochevsky paid any bribe — and, crucially, that Joe Biden was involved in any of this.
Archer explained that his work for Burisma was centered on finding external financing for the then-young company to expand. Hunter Biden also helped set up connections in Washington, helping “set Burisma up with [legal firm] Boies Schiller, with Blue Star Group, with the DHS lobbyists, with a whole government affairs and lobbying team in D.C.”
He said that Biden’s last name helped — and that Hunter Biden sought to give the impression he was leveraging Joe Biden in his role. But he also testified that Hunter Biden knew this was deceptive. Archer confirmed an email in which Hunter Biden discussed how to frame an announced trip by the then-vice president to Ukraine.
“The announcement of my guy’s” — his father’s — “upcoming travels should be characterized as part of our advice and thinking — but what he will say and do is out of our hands,” the email read. “In other words, it could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation.”
This distills Archer’s broader point: Hunter Biden wanted to give the impression he could bend Joe Biden’s will but, in private conversation, he said he couldn’t.
“He was getting paid a lot of money,” Archer told the investigators, “and I think, you know, he wanted to show value.”
It is true, Archer said, that in December 2015, Zlochevsky and Burisma were under a lot of pressure. But Shokin was not a cause of that pressure, he testified — Shokin was an asset.
“There was capital tied up in London, 23 million pounds. There was, you know, a U.S. visa denied and then a Mexico visa denied,” he testified. “Shokin wasn’t specifically on my radar as being an individual that was — that was targeting him. But, yes, there was constant pressure.”
The sort of pressure that those non-vice-presidential connections Hunter Biden had helped set up were designed to try to relieve. Pressures unrelated to Shokin.
In fact, as Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) pointed out in questioning Archer, Shokin had himself helped relieve some of that pressure on Burisma. Those assets in London? They were unfrozen in part because Shokin refused to assist a British investigation into Zlochevsky, Goldman noted.
“This goes to the idea that Shokin, who was prosecutor general in 2015, was good for Burisma,” Goldman said.
“Uh-huh,” Archer replied.
When Biden traveled to Ukraine in December 2015 — a trip that was announced publicly before the phone call that Jordan and Comer implied had triggered it — he joined other international leaders in condemning Shokin’s performance. (This was not, as Jordan claimed on Fox News, the “starting [of] pressure” on Shokin.) Archer testified that he was told by Burisma’s team in Washington that this pressure from Biden “was bad for Burisma.”
Archer agreed that the fact that “Shokin did not pursue corruption investigations against Burisma’s owner, effectively shielding the owner from prosecution,” as Goldman articulated it, meant that Shokin’s ouster put Burisma and Zlochevsky at more risk, not less.
More broadly, Archer severely undercut Republican claims about Hunter Biden’s interactions with his father.
He at first indicated that Hunter Biden had called his father after that meeting in Dubai in December 2015 but later said that he only knew that Hunter had “called D.C.”
So, he was asked, did Hunter Biden ever ask his father to take official actions on behalf of his business partners? “He did not,” Archer said. “He did not ask him — to my knowledge, I never saw him say, do anything for any particular business.”
Archer was asked later to confirm that he was not aware of any policy discussion between Hunter Biden and his father or of any occasion on which he asked the then-vice president to do anything improper. “That’s my understanding,” Archer said.
What about that bribe? Would he disagree with the idea that an FBI interview form that was the root of Comer’s initial claim actually constituted evidence of a bribe? “Yeah, I would,” Archer said, noting that (as the informant who claimed to have been told about the bribe noted) this sort of boasting was common in such situations — “very similar to D.C. operators,” Archer added, not needing to identify Hunter Biden as such an operator. What’s more, he said — under penalty of perjury, mind you — he was never aware of any such bribe offered to Hunter Biden or anyone else.
There was never a good reason to believe that the bribe allegation was legitimate, and Comer’s repeated claims about it have done enormous damage to his credibility. To have Devon Archer dismiss it certainly isn’t complete exoneration, but it is more evidence against the idea that it occurred.
Consider the first words out of Comer’s mouth in that interview with Hannity: “Every day this bribery scandal becomes more credible.” In fact, Archer’s testimony pointed precisely in the opposite direction.
That’s the pattern here. Comer and Jordan and others hype claims of Joe Biden’s involvement in Hunter Biden’s work only to see those claims collapse as more information is made public. Devon Archer’s testimony was hailed as a central breakthrough in implicating Joe Biden. Instead, it has a top ally of Hunter Biden stating under penalty of perjury that Joe Biden was not involved in Hunter Biden’s business and that Biden’s trip to Ukraine in 2015 was not centered on protecting Burisma at all.
Very much contrary to what those leading Republicans implied on Fox News.
Update: On Thursday morning, a Washington Post reporter received an email from Comer’s congressional campaign, seeking to raise money off of the release of the Archer testimony.
“Star Witness Devon Archer delivered BOMBSHELL testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee,” the email reads. Then, in bold: “No wonder Biden’s DOJ tried to throw him in jail before he could testify.”
This is not true.
“This is the smoking gun evidence we needed to prove that Joe Biden was the head of the Biden Bribery Scheme,” the email continued. A bit later the sales pitch: Comer needs financial support to weather “a vicious character assassination campaign” against him.
“DEFEND COMER,” the contribution buttons read.