NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been relentlessly promoting a theory that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, were engaged in corrupt activity in or about Ukraine. On the ground in Ukraine, though, Giuliani's story does not hold up. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Rudy Giuliani's accusations sound serious, and even now, they continue to feed a narrative that Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, have something to hide in Ukraine. It's true that as vice president, Joe Biden once threatened to hold back a billion dollars in aid money unless Ukraine got rid of a prosecutor named Viktor Shokin. Giuliani says Biden did it to protect his son. But at the time, practically all of Ukraine's allies were demanding Shokin's resignation.
ANDRII BOROVYK: There were lots of demands from different international stakeholders to fire Shokin because of his failure of managing to reform and changing the Soviet-style prosecutor's office.
KIM: That's Andrii Borovyk, the head of the Kyiv office of the global corruption watchdog Transparency International. He says Shokin had a reputation for not investigating anybody - and there never was an investigation into Joe Biden's son. Hunter Biden got his lucrative job at a Ukrainian oil and gas company five years ago.
DARIA KALENIUK: The facts are very clear - Hunter Biden was in the board of very shady company associated with shady Ukrainian politician. Was it illegal? No. Was it good? No.
KIM: Daria Kaleniuk is the head of Kyiv's Anti-Corruption Centre, which Giuliani has also attacked as a nonprofit run by U.S. financier George Soros. While Kaleniuk's organization gets some money from Soros, it's mostly funded by Western governments, including the U.S., and has investigated the company Hunter Biden worked for. But all the accusations of the company's wrongdoing stem from the time before Hunter Biden. Kaleniuk says the whole reason Biden was hired was an attempt to clean up the company's image with a big name.
Another Giuliani target is Serhiy Leshchenko, a former member of Ukraine's Parliament who first exposed cash payments by Ukrainian politicians to Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Manafort is now in prison for financial fraud. Leshchenko says Giuliani's narrative relies on another Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who once suggested that Hunter Biden did something illegal but now says Biden didn't break any Ukrainian laws. Leshchenko says Giuliani ignores that part of the story.
SERHIY LESHCHENKO: The chain of events is not real, but for Lutsenko and for Giuliani, it was not important. For them, it was necessary to make this conspiracy theory possible.
KIM: The supposed conspiracy of the Bidens in Ukraine informed President Trump's controversial phone call with the new Ukrainian president this summer. In that conversation, Trump asks for Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and offers the help of the U.S. attorney general. That has put Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a very uncomfortable position. Ukraine has relied on bipartisan support in the U.S. since its giant neighbor, Russia, annexed Crimea and backed an armed insurgency five years ago. Daria Kaleniuk, the anti-corruption campaigner, says Ukraine’s hard-fought independence may be at stake.
KALENIUK: Both Ukraine and the United States are losing. It’s only Russia which is really benefiting from this story. If Ukraine loses bipartisan support in the United States, Russia will win the battle for Ukraine.
KIM: President Zelenskiy’s challenge is now to make sure neither Republicans nor Democrats think he’s leaning too far either way. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.