The day former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter accepted a position on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company and the vice president did not announce to the rest of the Obama administration that he was recusing himself from all matters relating to Ukraine was the day Joe Biden created the conflict of interest that could, ultimately, deny him the presidency.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Hunter Biden’s “work” as a director of Burisma Holdings was tainted by corruption.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Joe Biden’s efforts to have a Ukrainian prosecutor general fired were corrupt.
It doesn’t matter that Hunter Biden, in a remarkable interview granted to ABC News, acknowledged what he called “poor judgment.” It doesn’t matter that Joe Biden, in Tuesday’s Democratic debate, said he is “proud” of his son’s judgment.
Honestly, I don’t know if what Hunter Biden did was corrupt. Nor do I know if what Joe Biden did was corrupt.
But whether they acted corruptly is beside the point.
The point is, Joe Biden was conflicted in the conduct of U.S. policy toward Ukraine the moment his son joined the board of directors of Ukraine’s second-largest privately owned natural gas producer.
At that point, the ethically (and politically) proper thing to do would have been for the vice president to inform his superior, President Obama, that his son had taken a position on the board of directors of a major foreign company, and that, to avoid any questions being asked about whether or not Vice President Biden’s conduct of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine were being tainted by his considerations of his son’s personal financial interests, he, the vice president, would recuse himself from that point forward, and would no longer have any input into the formulation or execution of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
But Mr. Biden did not do that. In a failure of judgment so colossal it will forever haunt him, Vice President Biden failed to execute the obvious maneuver to avoid questions of ethics — and the political damage that would come with them — down the road.
Making and executing policy that could affect your child’s personal financial interests is so obvious a conflict of interest that even one of Mr. Biden’s current rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination recognizes it. Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” recently if she would allow her vice president’s child to sit on the board of directors of a foreign company, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, “No, I wouldn’t … And I can promise you right now my own daughter, who is only 24, does not sit on the board of a foreign company.”
Of course, since committing the original sin and failing to recuse himself from all matters relating to Ukraine, Mr. Biden compounded the error and made the situation worse for himself. He visited Ukraine and leveraged U.S. assistance by threatening to withhold a billion dollars worth of U.S. aid unless the Ukrainian government acceded to his demand to have a certain Ukrainian prosecutor fired.
And then he bragged about it before the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Biden’s defenders insist this was perfectly proper, as he was acting merely to execute a policy that had been decided by inter-agency discussions — that is, a policy that was decided by others. But, again, that is beside the point.
It makes no difference whether or not that desired U.S. policy end (the firing of the prosecutor) was arrived at with input from others and discussions among agency heads; nor, for that matter, does it matter whether or not the desired end was in and of itself a good and proper goal of U.S. policy. The fact that the prosecutor had, at one point, investigated the company on whose board sat his son should have driven Mr. Biden away from being the messenger on that particular sensitive message.
But Vice President Biden was blind to the ethical (and political) considerations. That’s a stunning lack of judgment for a candidate who touts his nearly 50 years of experience as one of his greatest selling points. If, after almost 50 years of operation at the highest levels of Washington power and influence, one couldn’t see the ethical and political dangers inherent in the conflict of interest, just how valuable is that experience and judgment after all?
The sad fact is, when it comes to seeing a conflict of interest, if he had one more eye, Joe Biden would be a Cyclops.
• Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.