Why Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry

When House Republicans disclosed their proposed list of witnesses for this week’s public impeachment hearings, nowhere on the list was the name of Viktor Shokin, the former Ukraine general prosecutor. It was a curious omission, because Trump’s defenses to impeachment depend heavily on Shokin.

That’s because Trump infamously asked Ukraine President Zelensky in their July 25 call to do him a “favor.” The favor was to investigate whether, as Trump put it, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE “stopped the prosecution” of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, to protect his son, Hunter, who was a Burisma board member.   

Where did that “stopped the prosecution” allegation against Joe Biden come from? According to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, it came from Viktor Shokin, who claimed in an affidavit that he was forced out by Joe Biden “because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma.”   

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So, why aren’t House Republicans demanding that Shokin testify either at the hearings or by deposition in Ukraine?    

The reason almost certainly is that Shokin could be exposed as corrupt and his claim could be revealed to be a sham. There are no facts to corroborate Shokin; indeed, it isn’t even clear that Shokin ever actively investigated Burisma.  

If Joe Biden had wanted to protect his son from an investigation, he would have pushed hard to keep Viktor Shokin right where he was. “He was an absolutely corrupt prosecutor who had to go,” Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, is quoted as saying of Shokin. 

Shokin’s own deputy resigned, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, because “his efforts to address government corruption had been consistently stymied by his own prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, as well as other government officials.” Then-Ukraine President Poroshenko, according to the same report, asked for Shokin’s resignation because he was “taking too long to clean up corruption even within the PGO [Prosecutor General’s Office] itself.”  

As an example, searches of the homes of two Shokin subordinates unearthed diamonds, cash and other valuables, which suggests that they had been taking bribes. The prosecutors in a department in Shokin’s office who tried to investigate reportedly were fired. 

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According to the English language Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv-Post, Shokin owns real estate assets in Prague and a house near Kyiv, did not list those properties in a declaration of his assets and could not have paid for them with his official salary. 

Shokin was so widely reviled that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union, the Ukraine Anti-Corruption Action Center and the chairman of the Ukraine parliamentary anticorruption committee, among others, also sought his removal. Hundreds of protesters even went into the streets of Kyiv demanding Shokin’s firing.  

In February 2016, Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing MORE (R-Ohio), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R-Ill.) (no longer in the Senate) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE (R-Wis.), none of whom were trying to protect Hunter Biden, joined five Democrats in sending a letter to Poroshenko demanding that he "press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General's office and judiciary." The former is an unmistakable reference to Shokin. Two months later, the Ukraine Parliament fired Shokin.   

If Shokin has reliable evidence to support his claim beyond simply his say-so as to Joe Biden’s state of mind in seeking his removal from office, Republicans should want his testimony. But there is every reason to believe that Shokin’s testimony would produce no such evidence.

That in turn would lead to the unavoidable conclusion that the claim of corruption on the part of the Bidens is a Trumpian pretext and that, in reality, the “favor” Trump asked of President Zelensky came down to this: If Ukraine wanted American aid, then Zelensky had to unjustly smear Joe Biden to advance Trump’s personal political interests. As Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) recently said, that “would be over the line” and “probably” impeachable.

No wonder Viktor Shokin isn’t on Republicans’ witness list.

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought an Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance.