Democratic consultants may have misled the Department of Justice about foreign lobbying work for a company that counted Hunter Biden on its board of directors, a pair of Republican senators claim.
Blue Star Strategies disclosed this month that its founders, Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter, had two meetings in 2016 with State Department officials regarding Ukraine's Burisma Holdings. But according to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Blue Star's founders failed to disclose nine other meetings with government officials, including two American ambassadors to Ukraine.
"It appears that Blue Star Strategies' top executives, Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter, filed incomplete and misleading information with the Department of Justice," Grassley and Johnson wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland. The senators pointed to records from their investigation into Biden and Blue Star's work for Burisma.
Hunter Biden, who served on the Burisma board of directors, recruited Painter and Tramontano in November 2015 to consult for Burisma and its owner Mykola Zlochevsky, who was under investigation for bribery. It is unclear what role Hunter Biden played in Blue Star's foreign lobbying efforts. But the arrangement has come under scrutiny because Biden served in that role while his father was leading the Obama administration's anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.
The senators' findings raise questions about whether the Justice Department prematurely closed an investigation into Blue Star's foreign lobbying. Painter and Tramontano, who served in the Clinton administration, disclosed their 2016 meetings in a filing earlier this month in order to resolve a Justice Department investigation into their foreign lobbying activity. A lawyer for the consultants said prosecutors closed the investigation after the firm disclosed the two meetings in a filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The end of the probe was a much-needed win for Hunter Biden, who is under investigation for his taxes and foreign entanglements. Federal prosecutors are reportedly looking into Biden's work in China and Ukraine. Burisma paid Biden and a business partner more than $80,000 a month to serve on the board of directors. At the time, Zlochevsky was under investigation for allegedly paying $23 million in bribes for drilling rights.
Painter and Tramontano disclosed to the Justice Department that they met with State Department officials Amos Hochstein and Catherine Novelli in 2016 to discuss Burisma. The consultants arranged meetings between the officials and Burisma's lawyer in order to ascertain the U.S. government's position toward the firm.
Grassley and Johnson detailed nine other meetings between Blue Star and officials from the Departments of State, Commerce, and Energy from 2015 to 2019.
The senators asked Garland whether the Department of Justice was aware of the meetings and whether the agency plans to address the incomplete filings.
"DOJ must scrutinize Blue Star Strategies' recently filed [Foreign Agents Registration Act] forms given the firm's apparent incomplete disclosures and its lack of consistency with our investigative records," they told Garland.
Painter and Tramontano did other advocacy work for Burisma that is not disclosed to the Justice Department. In 2017, the consultants arranged a partnership between Burisma and the Atlantic Council, the prominent Beltway foreign policy think tank. For $300,000, Atlantic Council granted access to Burisma for its energy conferences and other policy events. State Department officials cautioned Atlantic Council officials about Burisma prior to the engagement, citing concerns about the Ukrainian company’s reputation.
Blue Star Strategies and a lawyer for the firm did not respond to a request for comment.