Atlantic Council Partnered With Burisma Despite ‘Uneasiness’ Over Bribery Allegations

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • A director at the Atlantic Council told a State Department official that the think tank was partnering with Burisma Holdings despite “uneasiness” with bribery allegations against the Ukrainian energy company. 
  • Burisma began sponsoring the Atlantic Council in early 2017 as part of a push to rehabilitate its image in the wake of bribery complaints against the firm’s owner. 
  • Burisma also tapped Hunter Biden to serve on its board. 
  • John Herbst, the Atlantic Council official, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the partnership with Burisma ended at the end of 2019.

The Atlantic Council began working in early 2017 with Burisma Holdings, even though a director at the prominent think tank expressed “uneasiness” regarding the Ukrainian energy firm in an email to a State Department official.

“I wanted you to know before it becomes public that the Atlantic Council decided to accept support for its program from Burisma,” John Herbst, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, wrote on Jan. 13, 2017 to George Kent, the under secretary of state for Europe.

“We looked at the matter closely and waited for over a month. Information provided to us by the Cravath lawyer for Burisma in the London case was an important factor, although some uneasiness remains.”

The email was first reported by The Washington Free Beacon and highlighted in a story published Wednesday by Just the News.

The Atlantic Council, one of the top foreign policy think tanks in Washington, has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years over its partnerships with corporations and foreign governments. The Free Beacon recently detailed the think tank’s coziness with the government of Turkey, which has waged a crackdown on civil institutions in recent years.

Burisma, a natural gas producer based in Kyiv, partnered with the Atlantic Council as the firm was waging a public relations campaign to repair its image in the wake of a bribery investigation in the U.K. British authorities had investigated Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky.  (RELATED: Firm Linked To Hunter Biden And Burisma Lobbied For Ukrainian Group Accused Of Smearing Anti-Corruption Activists)

Burisma hired Hunter Biden as a director in April 2014, just as then-Vice President Joe Biden took over as the Obama administration’s chief liaison to Ukraine following the Maidan Revolution.

Hunter Biden and his business partners reportedly put Burisma in contact with Blue Star Strategies, a consulting firm owned by former Clinton administration officials Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano. Both served on the Atlantic Council’s board of directors.

According to the Atlantic Council’s website, Burisma has contributed between $100,000 and $250,000 to the think tank. Burisma reportedly paid Hunter Biden at least $50,000 a month to serve on its board.

Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, is leading an investigation into Blue Star Strategies’ and Hunter Biden’s Ukraine-related activities. He wants to know whether Biden’s role on the board of Burisma influenced the Obama administration’s actions towards Ukraine or the energy company.

The Republican is also looking into whether Blue Star leveraged its ties to Hunter Biden to gain access to the State Department and other government agencies.

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. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Town & Country)

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. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Town & Country)

Other State Department emails released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have showed that Painter and Tramontano, the Blue Star founders, aggressively pushed for access to State Department officials regarding Burisma.

Tramontano emailed a State Department official on Feb. 24, 2016 seeking a meeting to gain “a better understanding of how the U.S. came to the determination that [Burisma] is corrupt.”

Painter wrote in a June 2016 email that she had spoken with Antony Blinken, who then served as deputy secretary of state, regarding Ukraine issues at an event for the Truman National Security Project and wanted to follow up with him in another meeting.

Painter and Hunter Biden served together as directors of the Truman Project at the time.

Blinken is a top foreign policy adviser to the Biden campaign and is reportedly in the running to serve as secretary of state in a Biden administration.

According to State Department emails, the Blue Star founders attended a reception welcoming Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after her confirmation on Aug. 29, 2016. Painter met Yovanovitch, who would become a key player in the Trump impeachment saga, in December 2016, according to Just the News.

On Jan. 13, 2017, Kent, the State Department official, forwarded Herbst’s email to Yovanovitch, and indicated that Blue Star and the Atlantic Council were working together on behalf of Burisma.

“The Blue Star duo, Karen and Sally, are on the Atlantic Council roster, and are the probable pushers of this,” Kent wrote to Yovanovitch, according to the State Department emails.

“John had come to the old DCR on a trip last fall before I moved and talked through the whole Burisma/Zlochevsky nexus. At the time he made no mention of this as a possibility.”

Herbst, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, had requested a meeting with State Department officials on Nov. 21, 2016 to discuss Burisma and Zlochevsky, according to other emails released through FOIA.

Herbst told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he sought a meeting with the State Department in order to ascertain whether the Atlantic Council should partner with Burisma.

“The November 2016 meeting request – which came months before the arrangement began – was part of an effort to hear thoughts on Burisma from Ukraine experts at the State Department and elsewhere, as we had been approached about a partnership with the organization,” he told the DCNF.

“We understood that there were allegations and court cases about past Burisma activities, and I held a discussion with someone from State in confidence to hear concerns about those activities.”

Herbst said that the partnership ended at the end of last year.

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