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Joe Biden may have as much to fear from the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry as the president himself.

Trump's urging that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy investigate allegations that Biden orchestrated the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor looking into his son's business dealings moved House Democrats to set the impeachment process in motion. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, Ukraine's largest natural gas producer. 

The Democratic presidential hopeful denies the allegation, but there's enough smoke there to distract and potentially even derail his campaign — should his rivals for the nomination choose to fan the flames.

This is not an either/or proposition. It's possible for both Trump and Biden to have dirty hands in regard to Ukraine. Implicating Biden does not exonerate Trump.

Still, defenders of Biden are quick to note the claims are unsubstantiated. All allegations are unsubstantiated until they're investigated, and the ones raised against the Bidens haven't been.

They should be. Tough questions should be asked and answered. But will the Democrats looking to knock Biden off the pole in the nominating race raise them? If they do, it could be the end of Biden's long-held presidential dreams.

Chief among the queries is whether Hunter Biden got the board seat with Burisma in 2014 because his father was the White House's point man for relations with the Ukraine.

The Washington Post notes, "Bringing aboard a son of the U.S. vice president was part of a broad effort by Burisma to burnish its credentials. … Inside the vice president’s office, there was discussion about whether Hunter’s position on the board would be perceived as a conflict of interest."

Did Biden alert his son to that perception, and did he advise him not to take the board seat? Biden says he had no role in his son's Ukraine dealings. But the fired prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, says he believes the senior Biden pressured the government to fire him under the threat of cutting of foreign aid. In other words, he says Biden did exactly what Trump is accused of doing. Shokin was also investigated for corruption.

How did Hunter Biden get the board seat and what assets did he bring other than his family ties? No one has said.

As Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Biden's son Hunter had cozy financial relations with other countries, including Ukraine. It's real swamp stuff. It looks bad, say the former vice president's friends. No, it is bad."

That's why Biden is working so hard to shut it down. This week he urged television networks not to give air time to Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who has been pushing the Hunter Biden story. It's revelatory that Joe Biden was comfortable making such a request, and indicative of how frightened he is of getting caught up in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. 

His ability to skate through this depends on whether his Democratic opponents pick up the cudgel. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who earlier attacked Biden for a decades old vote on school busing, this week urged critics to "leave Joe alone" about the Ukraine.

The rest of the field may go along out of fear of appearing to support a Trump narrative. On the other hand, toppling Biden would provide an opening for other candidates who have struggled to rise.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the wild card. With Sen. Bernie Sanders down with a bad ticker, Biden is her biggest barrier to the Democratic nomination. Will she be able to resist throwing a knock-out punch? 

nfinley@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN 

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