A bipartisan group of lawmakers echoed then-Vice President Joe Biden’s push for anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, including within the country’s office of the prosecutor general, according to a 2016 letter unearthed by CNN.
In the letter, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, pressed Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko to take action on “entrenched corruption” within his government.
“We recognize that your governing coalition faces not only endemic corruption left from decades of mismanagement and cronyism, but also an illegal armed seizure of territory by Russia and its proxies,” they wrote in the letter. ”[We] urge you to press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General’s office and judiciary.”
The letter was also signed by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The letter appears to undermine President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that there was “quid pro quo” when then-Vice President Biden withheld aid to Ukraine to push the country’s leaders to fire its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.
Trump claims Biden did so for the purpose of impeding an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company upon whose board Hunter Biden served. No evidence has been brought to light to suggest this.
Biden boasted in 2018 about withholding $1 billion in aid to Ukraine to get them to oust Shokin, which Trump has claimed amounts to a “quid pro quo.” But foreign policy experts, including a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, say Biden’s actions were an appropriate form of diplomatic pressure.
Hunter Biden through the years
Hunter Biden through the years
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden speaks on stage at the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: (L-R) U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Hon. Dan Glickman, and Hunter Biden attend the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden (L) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attend the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden and Kathleen Biden arrive at the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: WFP USA Board Chair Hunter Biden speaks during the World Food Program USA's 2016 McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at the Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Kris Connor/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28: Hunter Biden attends the T&C Philanthropy Summit with screening of "Generosity Of Eye" at Lincoln Center with Town & Country on May 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Town & Country)
US Vice President Joe Biden (C) buys an ice-cream at a shop as he tours a Hutong alley with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden (R) and son Hunter Biden (L) in Beijing on December 5, 2013. Biden said on December 5 China's air zone had caused "significant apprehension" and Beijing needed to reduce Asia-Pacific tensions to protect its growing stake in regional peace and stability. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Andy Wong (Photo credit should read ANDY WONG/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 04: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves as he walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden (C) and son Hunter Biden (R) at the airport December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. Biden is on the first leg of his week-long visit to Asia. (Photo by Ng Han Guan-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 01: Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and World Food Program USA Board Chair Hunter Biden taking the Live Below the Line Challenge, eating and drinking on $1.50 a day to raise awareness of global hunger and World Food Programme school feeding efforts around the world, at World Food Program USA on May 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
President Barack Obama, left, Vice President Joe Biden, center, and Hunter Biden share a laugh during the first half of the NCAA basketball game between Georgetown and Duke at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Saturday January 30, 2010. Georgetown defeated Duke, 89-77. (Photo by Chuck Myers/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 29: Hunter Biden (l) and actor Woody Harrelson pose for a photo at the after party following the 2nd Annual IMPACT Film Festival's screening of "The Messenger" at Posh on October 29, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (2R) arrives at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife Dr. Jill Biden (R), his son Hunter (L) and his daughter-in-law Kathleen for the internment services for U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy in Arlington, Virginia, August 29, 2009. Kennedy died late Tuesday after a battle with cancer. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Jim BOURG (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - JANUARY 20: Vice-President Joe Biden arrives with his family, wife Jill, sons Hunter and Beau at the reviewing stand to watch the Inaugural Parade from in front of The White House January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the first African-American to be elected to the President in the US. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Hunter Biden and guest attend the Artists And Athletes Alliance red carpet event at Inaugural Honors ServiceNation, held at Cafe Milano in Georgetown January 19, 2009 Washington, DC. (Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images)
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Biden wasn’t the only person calling for Shokin’s removal from office. Members of Congress (as evidenced by the 2016 letter of support), European leaders and international organizations were all pushing for the notoriously corrupt prosecutor to be fired.
Shokin’s office had opened an investigation into Burisma, but it was dormant by the time Biden was working on anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have cleared Biden of any wrongdoing related to Shokin’s firing.
Neither Portman nor Kirk, who is no longer in office, immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment. Johnson wrote a letter with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last week that, in part, called on Attorney General William Barr to investigate allegations that Biden called for Shokin’s removal to help his son. Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The United States, the European Union, the I.M.F., and Ukraine’s leading reform figures were all pressing for Viktor Shokin to be removed from office because he was one of the biggest obstacles to fighting corruption in the entire country,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told HuffPost in a statement.
“This was a bipartisan goal in Congress as well,” he added. “It is unfortunate that Senator Johnson seems to have forgotten a time when he put the country’s values over his own politics, but perhaps re-reading his well-articulated words whole-heartedly agreeing with Joe Biden’s push to move the anti-corruption cause in Ukraine forward will help him on his journey back to intellectual consistency.”
Trump’s obsession with Biden’s dealings with Ukraine resulted in a whistleblower complaint filed in August by a U.S. intelligence official that alleges Trump repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and may have withheld military aid as leverage.
The complaint prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to announce the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump last week. Democrats say Trump’s exchange with Zelensky amounts to an attempt to seek foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Trump has claimed his call with Zelensky was “perfect” and that he withheld aid because he was annoyed that European allies were not paying enough. He praised Portman on Wednesday for backing up that explanation, declaring “there’s nobody more honorable” than him.
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.