By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. diplomat told congressional investigators this week that he raised concerns about Hunter Biden's position with a Ukrainian natural gas company in 2015, only to be turned away by an aide to then-Vice President Joe Biden, a person familiar with the testimony said on Friday.
Hunter Biden's role on the board of the energy company Burisma Holdings Ltd while his father was in the White House plays into a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The inquiry is focused on whether Trump may have withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine earlier this year until that country's newly elected president launched an investigation into the Bidens and into a debunked theory that Ukraine may have meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.
The U.S. diplomat, George Kent, who was the State Department's deputy chief of mission in Ukraine, told congressional investigators on Tuesday that he became aware of Hunter Biden's Burisma board seat in early 2015 and spoke to a Biden staffer about it.
At the time, Joe Biden's other son, Beau, was dying from cancer.
"Kent testified that he raised this issue - the perception of a conflict of interest - that was problematic," the source said. "What he was told by the Biden official was that Beau's dying of cancer and they didn't have any further bandwidth to deal with family issues."
Hunter Biden's role in Burisma coincided with a U.S. anti-corruption drive in Ukraine that emphasized the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, the source said.
House Democrats are looking into a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and whether the Republican president pressed Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Joe Biden is a top candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, making him a possible Trump rival in next year's election.
Trump has called the House impeachment inquiry, which could lead to formal House charges against him, a "witch hunt" motivated by Democrats' bitterness over his 2016 surprise victory.
Trump's re-election campaign has begun selling T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Get Over It."sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden's presidential campaign, said in a statement that when he was vice president, "the U.S. made eradicating corruption a centerpiece of our policies toward Ukraine."
NEW ROUND OF WITNESSES
Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly, who sat in on Kent's testimony, told reporters this week that the diplomat also described a parallel foreign policy effort to sideline career diplomats on Ukraine and place relations with the country in the hands of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor, and Trump's then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The House investigation into Trump's activities involving Ukraine will continue next week, when State Department diplomats, administration national security officials and a Defense Department Ukraine policy expert are due to testify.
Lawmakers are looking into the actions of several Trump aides, including his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Members of House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight panels also are hoping to receive subpoenaed documents from White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who on Friday announced his resignation.
On Thursday, Mulvaney sent shock waves through Washington when he told reporters that Trump's decision to withhold $391 million in aid to Ukraine was linked to the president's desire for Kiev to investigate a theory -- debunked long ago -- that a Democratic National Committee computer server was held in Ukraine.
Trump has denied that he ever used the American foreign aid as leverage to get Zelenskiy to look into the domestic political matters. But Trump has publicly urged both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.
Meanwhile, U.S. House Republicans on Friday ramped up their demand that Democrats investigating Trump provide lawmakers with access to all materials gathered by the three committees during their closed-door interviews and depositions.
Representative Doug Collins, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to the three House chairs warning of his "intent to exercise my right" under House rules to review the closely held documents.
(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Mark Hosenball in Washington and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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