The Atlantic - September 27, 2019

"But the egregiousness of these acts must not blind us to the culture of influence-peddling that surrounds and enables them. That culture is fundamental to the cynical state we are in, and it needs examining. All too often, the scandal isn’t that the conduct in question is forbidden by federal law, but rather, how much scandalous conduct is perfectly legal—and broadly accepted."

How did this get to be standard practice?

The whistle-blower scandal that has prompted the fourth presidential impeachment process in American history has put a spectacle from earlier this decade back on display: the jaw-smacking feast of scavengers who circled around Ukraine as Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow-linked kleptocrat, was driven from power. Ukraine’s crisis was the latest to energize a club whose culture has come to be treated as normal—a culture in which top-tier lawyers, former U.S. public officials, and policy experts (and their progeny) cash in by trading on their connections and their access to insider policy information—usually by providing services to kleptocrats like Yanukovych. The renewed focus on Ukraine raises jangling questions: How did dealing in influence to burnish the fortunes of repugnant world leaders for large payoffs become a business model? How could America’s leading lights convince themselves—and us—that this is acceptable?

Voicing this question now invites an immediate objection: “false equivalence.” Let’s dispense with it. What Donald Trump has done—in this case, according to the summary of a single phone call, lean on a foreign president to launch two spurious investigations in order to hurt political rivals, offering the services of the U.S. Department of Justice for the purpose—is shockingly corrupt, a danger to American democracy, and worthy of impeachment.

Let’s start with Hunter Biden. In April 2014, he became a director of Burisma, the largest natural-gas producer in Ukraine. He had no prior experience in the gas industry, nor with Ukrainian regulatory affairs, his ostensible purview at Burisma. He did have one priceless qualification: his unique position as the son of the vice president of the United States, newborn Ukraine’s most crucial ally. Weeks before Biden came on, Ukraine’s government had collapsed amid a popular revolution, giving its gas a newly strategic importance as an alternative to Russia’s, housed in a potentially democratic country. Hunter’s father was comfortably into his second term as vice president—and was a prospective future president himself.

There was already a template, in those days, for how insiders in a gas-rich kleptocracy could exploit such a crisis using Western “advisers” to facilitate and legitimize their plunder—and how those Westerners could profit handsomely from it. A dozen-plus years earlier, amid the collapse of the U.S.S.R. of which Ukraine was a part, a clutch of oligarchs rifled the crown jewels of a vast nation. We know some of their names, in some cases because of the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office: Oleg Deripaska, Viktor Vekselberg, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Leonard Blavatnik. That heist also was assisted by U.S. consultants, many of whom had posts at Harvard and at least one of whom was a protégé of future Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. ...
Read full report at The Atlantic