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A look behind the NY Post headline about Joe Biden and a Ukraine meeting

PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter.

For weeks, conservatives have tried to attack Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by raising what they portray as sketchy business dealings by his son Hunter Biden.

The line of attack — by Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Donald Trump Jr. and others —  is that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars from work in the Ukraine by virtue of his family connections, even as he seemed to lack any requisite business credentials. 

The persistent heat has shed little light, however, on whether former Vice President Joe Biden did anything wrong.

Then on Oct. 14, three weeks before Election Day, the New York Post published a front-page story with a headline promising proof: 

"Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad."

The article relies on information from a computer hard drive that the tabloid said it received from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For all the smoke in the headline, the article offers little fire.

The emails cited in the article, which we are not able to verify, do not establish that such a meeting ever occurred.

The Bidens and Ukraine

Here’s what’s been well known for more than a year:

  • Hunter Biden, who has a law degree from Yale University and co-founded a business consulting firm, held a directorship for a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, while his father was vice president. Experts agree that Hunter Biden's acceptance of the position created a conflict of interest for his father. 

  • In 2015, Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s top prosecutor general, was in charge of investigating corruption associated with Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky. But several Western leaders, activists and institutions argued Shokin was not pursuing corruption aggressively enough. They were largely united in seeking Shokin’s removal.

  • As vice president, Joe Biden urged Ukraine to fire Shokin, and threatened to withhold U.S. aid. But we’ve found no evidence to support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son's interests in mind. Biden’s position was that of the U.S. government and its allies.

  • It’s not clear that the company would have benefited from Shokin’s ouster anyway, given evidence that investigations into Burisma had long been dormant.

The Post report

Here’s how the New York Post article begins:

"Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

"The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

"‘Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent (sic) some time together. It’s realty (sic) an honor and pleasure,’ the email reads."

None of the emails included with the article, however, point to a meeting having taken place. And an image in the article of the email that the Post calls "blockbuster correspondence" does not contain any of the metadata — such as a message ID number, and the time and date the email was created —  that would help establish the authenticity of an email.

No such meeting was reported by a Senate Republican investigation, led by Johnson, into corruption allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden involving Ukraine. The investigation report released in late September contained no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president.

Joe Biden has denied intervening in Hunter Biden’s business interests, even saying he has never spoken to his son about them. 

"They never had a meeting," Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told PolitiFact, referring to Joe Biden and the Ukrainian businessman cited in the article. He added: "The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story," including that Giuliani  "claimed to have such materials."

We asked one of the authors of the New York Post report for the emails that the article relies on, but didn’t get a response. We also did not get a response from Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires.

Facebook and Twitter responded to the article by limiting the sharing of the story and other stories by the newspaper on the same topic. Facebook said the move is part of its "standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation." Twitter cited policies regarding personal information such as email addresses and on "hacked materials."

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