by Chuck Ross
A Democratic consulting firm linked to Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings registered to lobby in 2017 for a Ukrainian organization that has been accused of smearing an anti-corruption group in the eastern European country, according to government records.
Blue Star Strategies, which was co-founded by two veterans of the Clinton administration, registered to lobby in September 2017 for National Interest of Ukraine (NIU), a shadowy organization linked to the People’s Front, a political party that promotes Ukrainian nationalism.
Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, or AnTac, has recently alleged that NIU hired Blue Star Strategies to “discredit” her group.
“Blue Star Strategies — this is the PR firm from the United States, which had an order to discredit our organization,” Kaleniuk said in an interview on Jan. 27.
In one of several odd twists involving Ukraine-related matters, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign cited Kaleniuk in a video supporting the former vice president against allegations leveled by Trump allies that he improperly intervened to help Burisma Holdings on behalf of his son.
But Kaleniuk has also criticized Hunter’s role with the Ukrainian energy firm given its reputation for corruption.
“I think Hunter Biden did a very bad thing and he was very wrong. He allowed his name to be abused,” she said in a June 20, 2019 interview with ABC News.
Hunter, who joined Burisma’s board in April 2014 along with his business partner, Devon Archer, is said to be the connection point between the company and Blue Star Strategies. The New York Times reported last year that Hunter and his partners brought in Blue Star to help Burisma fight off corruption investigations.
Blue Star Strategies is owned by Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter, two former Clinton administration officials. Painter was on the board of directors with Hunter on the Truman National Security Project, a liberal national security think tank.
There is no indication that Hunter was aware of Blue Star’s work for NIU. It is also unclear what work Blue Star did for NIU. Tramontano and another associate of the firm did not respond to requests for comment.
AnTac has alleged on its website that NIU began retaliating against the group because it was calling for corruption investigations against lawmakers associated with the People’s Front. NIU in turn began questioning AnTac’s non-profit status, and pushed for investigations of the group.
Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank, has criticized the NIU as a “fake” non-government organization.
“The criminal probe against AntAC was initiated by a fake NGO created and influenced by political interests,” reads a report that Freedom House issued in 2018.
“This fake NGO, National Interest of Ukraine, was registered in 2017—its Facebook page appeared just a day before the investigation into AntAC was announced—and was mainly used to discredit civil society activities.”
The Freedom House report said that NIU is closely associated with leaders in the People’s Front, which has been under investigation for corruption.
Kaleniuk has not released specifics on how the firm targeted AnTac. She did not reply to emails seeking comment for this article.
Blue Star registered as a lobbyist for the group on Sept. 11, 2017, according to documents filed with Congress.
The registration filing says Blue Star would work for NIU to “[r]aise awareness within USG of [non-governmental organization’s] work to promote rule of law & civil rights in Ukraine.” The lobbying disclosure forms do not show that Blue Star was paid by NIU. Blue Star submitted a termination form on Nov. 28, 2017.
Senate Republicans investigating Hunter’s work for Burisma Holdings have in recent months turned their attention to Blue Star Strategies.
On Sunday, Sen. Ron Johnson said that he plans to subpoena a former consultant for Blue Star named Andrii Telizhenko.
State Department emails show that Painter and Tramontano sought meetings with multiple State Department officials to discuss Burisma and other Ukraine-related matters.
On June 27, 2016, Sally Painter emailed State Department official Bill Russo seeking a follow-up meeting with Tony Blinken, who then served as deputy secretary of state.
Painter said in the email that she had talked with Blinken about “troubling events” in Ukraine at an event hosted by the Truman National Security Project.
Blinken is now a foreign policy adviser to Biden’s campaign. Russo is a top Biden campaign official.
Tramontano also contacted State Department officials regarding Burisma. She sent an email on Feb. 24, 2016, seeking a meeting with Catherine Novelli, formerly the undersecretary of state for energy issues, in hopes of “getting a better understanding of how the U.S. came to the determination that [Burisma] is corrupt.”
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