Claims that the FBI may have a document that asserts an informant has audio recordings showing then-Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden discussing a "bribe" have brought a deluge of largely rehashed conspiratorial claims.
In May 2023, the U.S. House Oversight Committee, chaired by James Comer, announced that it had heard from a whistleblower who had contacted Sen. Chuck Grassley to reveal that the FBI has a document detailing a "criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national" surrounding "an arrangement involving an exchange of money for policy decisions," as described in a news release:
Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member and long-time whistleblower advocate Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) today are demanding the FBI produce an unclassified record alleging a criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national.
The document, an FBI-generated FD-1023 form, allegedly details an arrangement involving an exchange of money for policy decisions. Comer issued a subpoena today following legally protected disclosures to Grassley's office.
"We believe the FBI possesses an unclassified internal document that includes very serious and detailed allegations implicating the current President of the United States. What we don't know is what, if anything, the FBI has done to verify these claims or investigate further. The FBI's recent history of botching politically charged investigations demands close congressional oversight," Grassley said.
The specific claim concerns an alleged bribe surrounding the Ukrainian oil company Burisma. The alleged arrangement, in basic terms, involved a $5 million bribe to the Bidens via Hunter Biden, who took a position on Burisma's board of directors in 2014. In return for this cash and a high-paying position for his son, Biden would force Ukrainian authorities to remove former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin who — it was claimed — had been investigating Burisma for corruption and other crimes.
The whistleblower referenced by Grassley and Comer allegedly is a person with knowledge of an FD-1023 — a summary document of raw intelligence tips received by FBI agents — in the agency's possession. That document, in turn, allegedly indicated recordings captured the main players discussing the bribe.
"The foreign national who allegedly bribed Joe & Hunter Biden allegedly has audio recordings of his conversation[s], 17 such recordings," Grassley said on June 12, 2023. "According to the 1023, the foreign national possesses 15 audio recordings of phone calls between him & Hunter Biden [and] two audio recordings of phone calls between him & then-VP Biden."
Concurrent with these announcements, however, were claims — pushed primarily by Trump's former personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani — that another whistleblower personally contacted by Giuliani had knowledge of this allegedly corrupt deal and was willing to testify in the GOP-led probes. Giuliani described this individual as "a woman who was the chief accountant at [...] Burisma" and "the wife of the former owner who died under suspicious circumstances."
Though not explicitly stated, the former owner referenced by Giuliani can only be Lisin. At the time in question, Burisma had only two owners and one of the two is presently alive. Lisin died in a car accident in 2011. Giuliani had been one of the primary individuals pushing the Biden-bribery allegations.
It is clear that, at least in this case, the alleged informant described by Giuliani was not the same alleged informant described in the FBI's FD-1023. In this article, Snopes untangles these confused claims while demonstrating that none of the claims in any way is consistent or new.
The Ukrainian Context
Hunter Biden was brought in to serve on the Burisma board of directors in 2014, at a time when the company faced allegations of corruption and held significant political baggage due to the company's founder's association with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions. Hunter Biden's appointment to the board was, by nearly all accounts, part of the board's effort to distance itself from past geopolitical associations.
Burisma was founded in 2002 by Ukrainian businessman Mykola Zlochevsky and Mykola Lisin to exploit Ukrainian and Eastern European oil deposits. Both individuals belonged to the Party of Regions and held elected office. Notably, Zlochevsky served from 2010 to 2012 as Ukraine's minister of ecology and natural resources, and later became the deputy secretary for economic and social security of the National Security and Defense Council from April 2012 until February 2014.
As a result of the Euromaidan revolution, Yanukovych abdicated the presidency and fled to Russia in 2014, and the Party of Regions was later banned. Following the shift in administrations, Burisma became the focus of tax-related probes, and Ukrainian prosecutors accused Zlochevsky of embezzling state money. The head legal officer for one year in 2015 and 2016 was Shokin, by whom the Bidens' were allegedly bribed to close down investigations of Burisma.
The underlying claim that the Bidens participated in this corruption, while wholly unsubstantiated, is not new. Beginning in 2018, Giuliani began interviewing Ukrainian officials — including Shokin himself — and promoted these unsubstantiated claims as part of his work for the Trump campaign. These claims, over time and without evidence, expanded to include the claim that Joe Biden himself took a bribe to end Shokin's investigation into Burisma.
The news hook that reinvigorated these claims in June 2023 was not evidence of this bribe. Instead, the newsworthy claim was that, somewhere deep in the recesses of the FBI or DOJ, there may be unexplored evidence of this bribe.
Both the Grassley/Comer claim and Giuliani's claim assert that they know someone who has rock-solid evidence of a bribe, but neither party has provided evidence. Both the GOP claims and the Giuliani claims, however, are incongruous and illogical.
The Grassley/Comer Claim
On June 8, 2023, Fox News broke the story regarding the Grassley/Comer claim that a long-time FBI informant had told the FBI in June 2020 about an alleged $5 million bribe to Joe Biden from a Burisma executive identified in other reports as Zlochevsky, and that this evidence was on tape:
President Joe Biden was allegedly paid $5 million by an executive of the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma Holdings, where his son Hunter Biden sat on the board, a confidential human source told the FBI during a June 2020 interview, sources familiar told Fox News Digital.
According to Fox News' reporting, the FBI's source was a businessman from whom Zlochevsky sought advice and who recorded those conversations:
The Burisma executive sought the advice of the confidential source, a business professional, on gaining U.S. oil rights and getting involved with a U.S. oil company, the sources familiar with the document said. The Burisma executive was speaking with the confidential source to "get advice on the best way to go forward" in 2015 and 2016. [...]
The Burisma executive explained to the confidential source that Burisma had to "pay the Bidens" because Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin was investigating Burisma, and explained how difficult it would be to enter the U.S. market in the midst of that investigation.
These claims are problematic for several reasons. First, Zlochevsky has explicitly denied that such a conversation ever occurred. In 2020, Politico asked Zlochevsky to detail any contacts he had with Joe Biden from 2013 to 2019. He replied that, "No one from Burisma ever had any contacts with VP Biden or people working for him during Hunter Biden's engagement."
Second, several individuals, including Shokin's former aide, said Shokin was not actually pursuing any Burisma investigation at the time of the alleged bribe. The Washington Post also reported that the investigation was dormant:
"Shokin was not investigating. He didn't want to investigate Burisma," Daria Kaleniuk, of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, told The Washington Post in July. "And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation."
As for the alleged tapes, no organization or agency has confirmed they exist. Speaking on Newsmax, Comer said of the alleged tapes that, "We don't know if they're legit or not."
In sum, the FD-1023 form detailed by GOP investigators is unverified hearsay that rehashes old allegations that still make little to no sense when one considers that there was no investigation to halt with a bribe in the first place.
The Giuliani Claim
Following the announcement of the Grassley/Comer whistleblower, Giuliani made public statements on Newsmax regarding a potential witness he had brought to the attention of the Department of Justice (DOJ) years early:
Rudy Giuliani: It's extraordinary. I gave [the DOJ] one witness that any investigator would jump through hoops to go to. Gave them a witness who is a woman who was the chief accountant at this crooked company, Burisma. She was the wife of the former owner who died under suspicious circumstances. And, she was willing to give up all of the offshore bank accounts, including the Bidens' accounts. She supervised the transfer of a lot more cash to the Bidens and other crooked politicians for Burisma.
Rita Cosby: Are you confident that now the House Committee is going to get to the bottom of that? Because that is stunning.
Rudy Giuliani: The reality is that we gave it to them in January of 2020, and the Pittsburgh US attorney was very interested. And then in a very strange move, Barr took it away from him, gave it to the US attorney in Delaware. He didn't do a damn thing about it.
These claims are extremely dubious. Based on Giuliani's testimony, the wife of a former Burisma owner — who Giuliani never named — was also the chief accountant for Burisma. Burisma's subsidiary companies listed the same chief accountant on SEC filings year after year. That woman was identified as Raissa Volodarskaya.
.@RepMTG, @SenRonJohnson and, @RepJamesComer continue to spread Biden disinformation provided by Rudy Giuliani and his pro Russian cohorts to confuse the American public. Here are some facts they don't want you to know ? #LevRemembers https://t.co/AYx8ULlR7l pic.twitter.com/0AkrHYMeJi
— Lev Parnas (@levparnas) June 19, 2023
As mentioned above, however, the former Burisma founder who is now dead can only be Mykola Lisin. While observers have asserted that no public documentation supports the existence of a Lisin wife in the first place, Snopes has identified local Ukrainian reporting that names Lisin's now ex-wife as Maryna Lisina.
Lisin's son Mykyta was kidnapped for several days in 2014 — an event that made national news in Ukraine. A report discussing that story identified the mother of Burisma founder Lisin's son (translated via Google, emphasis ours):
According to Serhiy Nenashev, the lawyer of the mother of the kidnapped Maryna Lisina, on the same day she turned to the police with a statement about the kidnapping of her son, despite the demands of the criminals not to do so. [...] They demanded that Maryna Lisina bring money in a bag, which she had to leave at a designated place near the highway in the Kyiv region. Maryna Lisina brought the money, and the kidnappers took it from the designated place. After that, on December 12, Mykyta Lisin was released, leaving him with his eyes tied with tape not far from the Vasylkovo river, just on the road.
By email, Snopes reached out to Giuliani to ask if he had any evidence that Maryna Lisina had ever been an accountant for any company. We also asked if he had evidence that Chief Accountant Volodarskaya had ever been married to Lisin. We have not received a response.
Because Giuliani appeared to be describing, at minimum, two separate individuals as if they were one person, it is hard to take these allegations seriously. In this case, like that of the FBI informant, there is no actual evidence — merely the suggestion that there could be evidence if the FBI wasn't corrupt.
The Bottom Line
There is no evidence to suggest that Joe Biden, or the Biden family, received money in exchange for political actions. That fact remains unchanged despite the inconsistent and logically incongruous assertions of evidence presented by both Grassley and Comer, as well as Giuliani.