by James Bovard
I know Romanian corruption. When I was exiting the country after investigating its collapsing economy in 1987, I made sure to bribe every guard who searched my luggage at the Bucharest airport with a pack of Kent cigarettes. But I neglected to give a pack to the soldier on the tarmac as I walked to my Lufthansa flight. He was soon screaming and waving his submachine gun in my direction. Whoops.
After the fall of communism, the U.S. State Department launched a program to help Romania and other East European governments curtail corruption. Vice President Joe Biden masterminded that effort from 2009 to 2016. The program was a smashing success.
Romania remained profoundly corrupt, but Biden family members received more than a million dollars from Romanian businessman Gabriel Popoviciu. He was convicted for corruption even though Hunter Biden flew to Bucharest to testify on his behalf before the National Anticorruption Directorate.
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer declared Wednesday, “While Vice President Biden was lecturing Romania on anti-corruption policies, in reality he was a walking billboard for his son and family to collect money.” Comer noted that “the money stops flowing from the Romanian national soon after Joe Biden leaves the vice presidency.” Former U.S. Treasury official Phil Stephenson testified in 2017 that the Romanian “fight against corruption itself has been corrupted.”
Romania is only the tip of the iceberg of payoffs that the Biden family—including his grandkids—pocketed from shady foreigners. A long memo from the House Oversight Committee showcased “the Biden family’s pattern of courting business in regions of the world in which the then Vice President had an outsize role and influenced U.S. policy.”
The House Committee asserts that the Bidens and their associates “established a network of over 20 companies” that collected at least $10 million from abroad. The scheme was covert from the get-go: “The Bidens took steps to hide, confuse, and conceal payments they received from foreign nationals.”
How did Biden get away with being so squirrely for so long?
U.S. money laundering regulations are designed to shroud crimes by American politicians. Federal agencies require banks to take far more precautions when handling financial transactions involving “politically exposed persons”—which includes almost all foreign politicians, their family members, friends, associates, and anyone else likely to take the money and run. But, as a 2020 federal regulatory notice declared, federal banking agencies “do not interpret the term ‘politically exposed persons’ to include U.S. public officials.”
Banks and other entities filed 170 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) tied to foreign payments now allegedly received by the Biden family or their associates. I predicted in The New York Post on March 24 that Biden could “face far greater peril” from the release of those SARs by the Treasury Department. But the red flags were ignored because Biden—like every other American politician—was presumptively innocent, according to federal regulations.
In June 2021, Biden announced, “The United States will lead by example…to fight the scourge of corruption” and “support of courageous citizens around the globe who are demanding honest, transparent governance.” A White House statement promised to “crack down…on illicit financing” that generates “pernicious foreign influence.”
Was there a secret asterisk exempting anyone named Biden in that crack down?
Denouncing corruption is the easiest way for rascally politicians to appear honest. U.S. government anti-corruption campaigns have been a perpetual sham or a pretext for shakedowns.
American politicians have fueled corruption around the world with U.S. foreign aid programs. As a Brookings Institution analysis observed, “The history of U.S. assistance is littered with tales of corrupt foreign officials using aid to line their own pockets, support military buildups, and pursue vanity projects.” Foreign aid has long been notorious for breeding kleptocracies—governments of thieves. A 2002 American Economic Review analysis concluded that “increases in [foreign] aid are associated with contemporaneous increases in corruption,” and that “corruption is positively correlated with aid received from the United States.”
In 2002, President George W. Bush promised to fix that problem by launching a new foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Bush proudly though incoherently announced: “We won’t be putting money into a society which is not transparent and corrupt.” (He probably meant “corruption-free.”) But the Bush administration continued delivering billions of dollars in handouts to many of the world’s most corrupt regimes. By 2004, the State Department had codified what amounted to backtracking: “The MCA is an incentive-based supplement to other U.S. aid programs” which bankroll crooked foreign politicians.
In 2009, President Barack Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden to Afghanistan to admonish President Hamid Karzai to stop the corruption that was destabilizing that nation. But the problem worsened. Pervasive corruption was a major reason why the Taliban is reconquering more of that nation each year. At Afghanistan’s premier military hospital, some wounded soldiers starved to death because they could not afford to bribe the hospital staff for food. Much of the army is practically bootless because of crooked contracts that deliver shoddy footwear that falls apart the first time soldiers wear them. Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, later admitted: “Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, may have been the development of mass corruption.”
In 2010, President Obama proclaimed at the United Nations that the U.S. government is “leading a global effort to combat corruption.” But the reform charade was exposed the following year when the Obama administration fiercely resisted congressional efforts to curb wasteful aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that restricting handouts to nations that fail anti-corruption tests “has the potential to affect a staggering number of needy aid recipients.”
At a 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London, Secretary of State John Kerry lamented, “I’ve been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today.” Kerry sounded like the French detective in Casablanca who was “shocked” to discover gambling. Kerry vowed: “We have to get the global community to come together and have no impunity [sic] to corruption.” The London conference produced one day’s worth of positive headlines for Kerry and the Obama administration.
Ukraine is perhaps the most brazen example of how U.S. government handouts propel corruption. In a 2015 speech to the Ukrainian parliament, Biden denounced the “cancer of corruption.” But the previous year, his son Hunter jumped on the Burisma gravy train, collecting a million dollar salary for a ceremonial position. Biden declared in 2019: “I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the U.S. government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine.” He failed miserably. The International Monetary Fund recognized in 2019 that its $20 billion in loans to Ukraine were a bust thanks to the government’s decades of “broken promises” and “systemic corruption.” At the 2019 House hearings on the impeachment of President Trump, a key witness was acting U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr. The Washington Post hailed Taylor as someone who “spent much of the 1990s telling Ukrainian politicians that nothing was more critical to their long-term prosperity than rooting out corruption and bolstering the rule of law, in his role as the head of U.S. development assistance for post-Soviet countries.” Taylor failed miserably but he was still a hero inside the Beltway because he had a benevolent-sounding job title and recited the right phrases. Plus, he testified against Trump.
Bribing foreign politicians to encourage honest government makes as much sense as distributing free condoms to encourage abstinence. How many Washingtonians pocketed six-figure salaries for boondoggle “Rule of Law” projects in Afghanistan? As long as the consultants can afford their BMWs, the program’s pathetic failure was irrelevant.
But Washington policymakers have learned from the decades of foreign aid scandals. Thus, the Biden administration and their congressional allies have blocked proposals by Republicans to create a Special Inspector General to oversee the $113 billion in aid for Ukraine that Congress appropriated so far. Sen. James Risch justified opposing creating an Inspector General because “we have found zero siphoning of U.S. dollars.” This is Beltway Logic at its best. This is on par with the Pentagon claiming that there were no civilian casualties from bombing a foreign nation because it refused to count the dead.
The White House and its media allies are downplaying the latest expose on Biden family foreign kickbacks. The White House even has a hairless official “spokesman for oversight and investigations” to ritually proclaim Biden’s innocence. That guy, Ian Sams, tweeted yesterday that “congressional Republicans’ allegations against the President are nothing more than innuendo and insinuation.”
But Rep. Comer said that his investigation is still in the “beginning stages,” and his committee is issuing more subpoenas. Americans would have learned little or nothing about Biden’s foreign money machine if Republicans had not captured control of the House of Representatives last November.
The revelations from the House Oversight investigation have already changed the storyline for when, after five years, the Justice Department finally announces the indictment of Hunter Biden. On MSNBC last Friday, Biden declared, “My son has done nothing wrong.” But the House Committee has shown that Hunter and other Bidens pocketed millions of dollars from shady Chinese sources—despite Biden’s denial in the final debate with Trump that his family had taken any money from China. Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian gravy train stinks to high heaven. The Romanian windfalls are the latest proof of global Biden conniving. When President Biden seeks to spin the indictment of his son, he will be starting with zero credibility. Biden proclaimed last Friday that he was “honorable.” But his style of honor should be a laughingstock anywhere beyond the Beltway.
“Corruption is just another form of tyranny,” Biden told the Romanian parliament in 2014. Americans are still learning about how our democracy is being subverted by this form of Biden tyranny. One certainty is that there is far more “pernicious foreign influence” than Washington admits. The other certainty is that the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative will never touch anyone named Biden.