Editor’s note: John Solomon’s columns regarding Ukraine became a subject of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' 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 ManafortDOJ investigating one-time Trump campaign adviser over alleged ties to Qatar: report Foreign lobbyists donated over M during 2020 election: report Former Mueller prosecutor representing Donoghue in congressional probes: report MORE in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE.
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 PutinEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Hot mic catches Queen criticizing 'irritating' climate inaction Putin directs sexist remark at US anchor Navalny, Afghan women among those under consideration for EU human rights prize 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.
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 SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Texas) wrote a private letter asking Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials Biden shows little progress with Abraham Accords on first anniversary Biden slips further back to failed China policies 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 VolkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails CNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe 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."
Roughly two weeks before Lutsenko’s interview with Hill.TV, U.S. Ambassador Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchGiuliani hires attorneys who defended Harvey Weinstein The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Former Ukrainian prosecutor says he was fired for not investigating Hunter Biden: report 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.
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.
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.
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.
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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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.