Former Vice President Joe Biden is refusing to rule out rewarding some of his top political donors with ambassadorships if elected in 2020.
Biden, who is facing questions from voters about his son’s lucrative business dealings overseas, told reporters aboard his “No Malarkey” bus tour of Iowa on Friday he would make appointments based on merit, and would not hold it against anyone if they helped underwrite his campaign.
“I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” the 77-year-old former vice president said. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed.”
The former vice president’s stance is in contrast to that of his Democrat rivals, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Since announcing her campaign, Warren has denounced the political donor class, even refusing to attend high-dollar fundraisers organized by such individuals. Warren escalated her position in June, when pledging to end the practice of giving “ambassadorial posts to wealthy donors or bundlers.”
The former vice president, however, sees no problem with the diplomatic status quo. On Friday, Biden asserted there were plenty of competent people ready to serve, who also may have donated to his campaign.
“You have some of the people out there … that are fully qualified to head up everything from being the ambassador to NATO to be ambassador to France … who may or may not have contributed,” he said.
The question of who Biden will appoint when in office comes as he struggles to explain the appearance of conflicts of interest during his tenure in the vice presidency. The controversy started over the summer, when President Donald Trump suggested the Ukrainian government look into Hunter Biden’s ties with Burisma Holdings.
The younger Biden was appointed to the Ukraine-based natural gas company’s board in 2014, despite having no background in either the energy industry or eastern Europe. More troubling was the fact that Hunter Biden’s appointment seemed to coincide with his father being tapped to lead the Obama administration’s policy towards in Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
As Peter Schweizer, senior contributor at Breitbart News, detailed in his book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, Hunter Biden’s background in investment banking, lobbying, and hedge fund management paled in comparison to that of current and past members of Burisma’s board.
Adding to concerns is the fact that, at the time Hunter Biden joined Burisma, the company was seen as actively courting leaders in the West to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. The same month that Hunter Biden was tapped to join the company’s board, the government of Great Britain froze accounts belonging to Burisma’s founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, under suspicion of money laundering.
A Ukrainian official with strong ties to Zlochevsky admitted in October the only reason that Hunter Biden secured the appointment was to “protect” the company from foreign scrutiny.
It is in the context of Burisma and Zlochevsky’s legal troubles that Joe Biden’s political influence has raised the most red flags. The former vice president has particularly aroused questions over his conduct in demanding the Ukrainian government fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
Joe Biden, who has publicly bragged about the firing, reportedly threatened to withhold more than one billion dollars in U.S. aid if the Ukrainian government did not remove Shokin. He has claimed the demand came from then-President Barack Obama, who had allegedly lost faith in the prosecutor’s ability to tackle corruption.
Unofficially, though, it was known that Shokin was investigating both Burisma and Zlochevsky for public corruption. It is uncertain if the probe extended to Hunter Biden, although Shokin has recently admitted that prior to his ouster, he was warned to back off the matter. Regardless, Shokin’s successor, who is now also being investigated for public corruption, closed the investigation into Burisma.
Hunter Biden, himself, has not helped alleviate the appearance of conflict of interest. In October, during an interview with ABC News, the younger Biden admitted his father’s political influence was likely the reason for his appointment with Burisma.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably not, in retrospect,” the younger Biden said when asked if he would have been tapped for the lucrative job had his father not been the sitting vice president. He quickly added, though, that his family’s political prominence had always played a large role in his dealings. “But that’s—you know—I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden.”