As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges

Editor’s note: John Solomon’s columns regarding Ukraine became a subject of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE. Any updated information can be found at the end of the column.

After nearly three years and millions of tax dollars, the Trump-Russia collusion probe is about to be resolved. Emerging in its place is newly unearthed evidence suggesting another foreign effort to influence the 2016 election — this time, in favor of the Democrats.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor divulged in an interview aired Wednesday on Hill.TV that he has opened an investigation into whether his country’s law enforcement apparatus intentionally leaked financial records during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortCohen released from federal prison to home confinement due to coronavirus concerns Advocates call on states to release more inmates amid pandemic Michael Cohen to be moved to home confinement due to coronavirus concerns: report MORE in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNew FBI document confirms the Trump campaign was investigated without justification California 25 and COVID-19 The Memo: Trump tweets cross into new territory MORE.

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The leak of the so-called black ledger files to U.S. media prompted Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign and gave rise to one of the key allegations in the Russia collusion probe that has dogged Trump for the last two and a half years.

Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko’s probe was prompted by a Ukrainian parliamentarian's release of a tape recording purporting to quote a top law enforcement official as saying his agency leaked the Manafort financial records to help Clinton's campaign.

The parliamentarian also secured a court ruling that the leak amounted to “an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” Lutsenko told me. Lutsenko said the tape recording is a serious enough allegation to warrant opening a probe, and one of his concerns is that the Ukrainian law enforcement agency involved had frequent contact with the Obama administration’s U.S. Embassy in Kiev at the time.  

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko told me.

Lutsenko, before becoming prosecutor general, was a major activist against Russia’s influence in his country during the tenure of Moscow-allied former President Viktor Yanukovych. He became chief prosecutor in 2016 as part of anti-corruption reforms instituted by current President Petro Poroshenko, an ally of the U.S. and Western countries.  

Unlike the breathless start to the Russia collusion allegations — in which politicians and news media alike declared a Watergate-sized crisis before the evidence was fully investigated — the Ukraine revelations deserve to be investigated before being accepted.

After all, Ukraine is dogged by rampant corruption. It is a frequent target of Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPostponed Russian World War II victory parade now set for June America's post-COVID-19 foreign policy House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia MORE’s dirty tricks. And it is a country that, just last year, faked a journalist's death for one day, reportedly to thwart an assassination plot.

But the chief prosecutor, a member of parliament and a court seemingly have enough weight to warrant serious scrutiny of their allegations and an analysis of the audio tape. 

Furthermore, the mystery of how the Manafort black ledger files got leaked to American media has never been solved. They surfaced two years after the FBI investigated Manafort over his Ukraine business activities but declined to move forward in 2014 for lack of evidence.

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We now have strong evidence that retired British spy Christopher Steele began his quest in what ultimately became the infamous Russia collusion dossier with a series of conversations with top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr between December 2015 and February 2016 about securing evidence against Manafort.

We know the FBI set up shop in the U.S. embassy in Kiev to assist its Ukraine–Manafort inquiry — a common practice on foreign-based probes — while using Steele as an informant at the start of its Russia probe. And we know Clinton’s campaign was using a law firm to pay an opposition research firm for Steele’s work in an effort to stop Trump from winning the presidency, at the same time Steele was aiding the FBI. 

Those intersections, coupled with the new allegations by Ukraine’s top prosecutor, are reason enough to warrant a serious, thorough investigation.

If Ukraine law enforcement figures who worked frequently with the U.S. Embassy did leak the Manafort documents in an effort to influence the American election for Clinton, the public deserves to know who knew what, and when.

Lutsenko’s interview with Hill.TV raises another troubling dynamic: The U.S. Embassy and the chief Ukrainian prosecutor, who America entrusts with fighting corruption inside an allied country, currently have a dysfunctional relationship.

In our interview, Lutsenko accused the Obama-era U.S. Embassy in 2016 of interfering in his ability to prosecute corruption cases, saying the U.S. ambassador gave him a list of defendants that he would not be allowed to pursue and then refused to cooperate in an early investigation into the alleged misappropriation of U.S. aid in Ukraine.

Lutsenko provided me with a letter from the embassy, supporting part of his story by showing that a U.S. official did in fact ask him to stand down on the misappropriation-of-funds case. “We are gravely concerned about this investigation for which we see no basis,” an embassy official named George Kent wrote to the prosecutor’s office. 

The State Department on Wednesday issued a statement declaring that it no longer financially supports Lutsenko’s office in its anti-corruption mission and considers his allegation about the do-not-prosecute list “an outright fabrication.”

My reporting, however, indicates Lutsenko isn’t the only person complaining about the U.S. Embassy in Kiev. 

Last year, when he served as House Rules Committee chairman, Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas kicks off critical battle for House control The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine Tenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden MORE (R-Texas) wrote a private letter asking Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGrassley: White House 'failed to address' if there was a 'good reason' for IG firings Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Ex-Pompeo staffers asked to sign letter against 'smear campaign' MORE to recall the current U.S. ambassador, alleging that she made disparaging statements about President Trump.

The ambassador “has spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current administration in a way that might call for the expulsion” of America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, Sessions wrote.

Such dysfunction does not benefit either country, especially when Russia is lurking around the corner, hoping to regain its influence in the former Soviet republic.  

Investigating what's going on in the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, and whether elements in Ukraine tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election to help Clinton, are essential steps to rebooting a key relationship.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill.


Editor’s note: Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine's former prosecutor general, was considered an anti-corruption ally by the U.S. State Department when he took office in mid-2016; within 18 months, U.S. officials deemed him to be dubious partner. Testifying before House impeachment investigators in October and November 2019, numerous U.S. diplomats and national security officials depicted him as unreliable. Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who testified on Oct. 3, said Lutsenko was "making things up ... because he wanted to save his job." 

Lutsenko was fired in late August 2019 by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Ukrainian government is investigating him for abuse of power, a charge he has dismissed as "a big fantasy."

Roughly two weeks before Lutsenko’s interview with Hill.TV, U.S. Ambassador Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchJim Jordan requests documents from Pompeo regarding Hunter Biden, Burisma  Trump taps new ambassador to Ukraine America's diplomats deserve our respect MORE delivered a biting speech criticizing Ukraine’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, an ally of Lutsenko’s.

Lutsenko has revised his account several times. In a March 2019 interview with Hill.TV, he was reported as saying then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch gave him a do-not-prosecute list — a charge she told House impeachment investigators was "completely false."  In April 2019, Lutsenko told a Ukrainian newspaper  that he reached for pen and paper and asked the ambassador for the list, and he described the earlier account as a translation error; according to Polygraph.info, a translation project of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, such an error did occur because Lutsenko said Yovanovitch “voiced” (using the Ukrainian word “oholosyla") a list. In an interview with The New Yorker in November, Lutsenko said he wrote the list himself, then ripped it up as Yovanovitch watched.

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The Ukrainian parliamentarian referenced in this column is Boryslav Rozenblat. His allegations against Artem Sytnyk, head of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), came as NABU investigated Rozenblat on charges related to Ukraine's illegal amber mining operations. NABU enjoys broad support from U.S. and European officials. Sytnyk has said the FBI, an official partner, helped with the investigation. Rozenblat lost his seat last year and remains under investigation for alleged bribery and corruption. The December 2018 court ruling in Rozenblat's favor, referenced in the column, was overturned in July by a Ukrainian appeals court.

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Ambassador Yovanovitch, testifying in the impeachment investigation on Oct. 11, said she confronted Lutsenko after the embassy deemed his investigative targets to be "harassment" or "politically motivated." She vehemently denied allegations, referenced in this column and elsewhere, that she had openly criticized President Trump. Trump recalled Yovanovitch from her post in May 2019.

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The Kent letter of April 4, 2016, referenced in this column, was written by then-U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission George Kent more than a month before Lutsenko become Ukraine's chief prosecutor and more than four months before Yovanovitch arrived in Ukraine. It came after Viktor Shokin, Lutsenko's predecessor, was voted out of office over corruption concerns by Ukraine's parliament on March 29, 2016.

Kent told House impeachment investigators in October 2019 that there was "broad-based consensus" that Shokin had "covered up crimes.” Kent's 2016 letter rejected claims from Shokin's team that U.S. anti-corruption aid — including funds for the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), an independent group with broad Western backing — had been misspent. "The accusations were completely without merit," he told House investigators.

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In October 2019, Ukrainian American businessman Lev Parnas and an associate were arrested on a federal indictment charging federal campaign finance violations. Parnas and the associate allegedly donated money to the 2018 campaign of then-U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), whose letter accusing Yovanovitch of being disloyal to Trump was cited by John Solomon. Following his arrest, Parnas told various media that he met repeatedly with figures involved in the Ukraine investigation, including Solomon. Solomon has said his interactions with Parnas were limited to Parnas providing background information, some translation assistance, and facilitating interviews with Ukrainian sources. The Hill has reached out to Parnas's legal counsel but has not received a response. 

U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 presidential election, with the specific intent of helping Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE reached the same conclusion and indicted 12 members of Russia's intelligence forces.

This post was updated at 7:05 AM on Feb. 19, 2020.