Let's get real: Democrats were first to enlist Ukraine in US elections

Earlier this month, during a bipartisan meeting in Kiev, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Senate votes for North Macedonia to join NATO Trump's Syria envoy says he wasn't consulted on troop withdrawal MORE (D-Conn.) delivered a pointed message to Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

While choosing his words carefully, Murphy made clear — by his own account — that Ukraine currently enjoyed bipartisan support for its U.S. aid but that could be jeopardized if the new president acquiesced to requests by President Trump’s lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiOvernight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment READ: Diplomat describes pressure put on Ukraine to open 'investigations' MORE to investigate past corruption allegations involving Americans, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSupport for impeachment inches up in poll Overnight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment MORE’s family.

Murphy boasted after the meeting that he told the new Ukrainian leader that U.S. aid was his country’s “most important asset” and it would be viewed as election meddling and “disastrous for long-term U.S.-Ukraine relations” to bend to the wishes of Trump and Giuliani.

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"I told Zelensky that he should not insert himself or his government into American politics. I cautioned him that complying with the demands of the President's campaign representatives to investigate a political rival of the President would gravely damage the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. There are few things that Republicans and Democrats agree on in Washington these days, and support for Ukraine is one of them," Murphy told me today, confirming what he told Ukraine's leader.

The implied message did not require an interpreter for Zelensky to understand: Investigate the Ukraine dealings of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and you jeopardize Democrats' support for future U.S. aid to Kiev.

The Murphy anecdote is a powerful reminder that, since at least 2016, Democrats repeatedly have exerted pressure on Ukraine, a key U.S. ally for buffering Russia, to meddle in U.S. politics and elections.

And that activity long preceded Giuliani’s discussions with Ukrainian officials and Trump’s phone call to Zelensky in July, seeking to have Ukraine formally investigate whether then-Vice President Joe Biden used a threat of canceling foreign aid to shut down an investigation into $3 million routed to the U.S. firm run by Biden’s son.

As I have reported, the pressure began at least as early as January 2016, when the Obama White House unexpectedly invited Ukraine’s top prosecutors to Washington to discuss fighting corruption in the country.

The meeting, promised as training, turned out to be more of a pretext for the Obama administration to pressure Ukraine’s prosecutors to drop an investigation into the Burisma Holdings gas company that employed Hunter Biden and to look for new evidence in a then-dormant criminal case against eventual Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortEx-Clinton lawyer predicts at least one count of obstruction of justice from Trump impeachment inquiry New York City lawmakers vote to close Rikers Island jail by 2026 Perry says Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine with Giuliani: report MORE, a GOP lobbyist.

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U.S. officials “kept talking about how important it was that all of our anti-corruption efforts be united,” said Andrii Telizhenko, the former political officer in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington who organized and attended the meetings. 

Nazar Kholodnytsky, Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, told me that, soon after he returned from the Washington meeting, he saw evidence in Ukraine of political meddling in the U.S. election. That's when two top Ukrainian officials released secret evidence to the American media, smearing Manafort. 

The release of the evidence forced Manafort to step down as Trump’s top campaign adviser. A Ukrainian court concluded last December that the release of the evidence amounted to an unlawful intervention in the U.S. election by Kiev’s government, although that ruling has since been overturned on a technicality.

Shortly after the Ukrainian prosecutors returned from their Washington meeting, a new round of Democratic pressure was exerted on Ukraine — this time via its embassy in Washington.

Valeriy Chaly, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States at the time, confirmed to me in a statement issued by his office that, in March 2016, a contractor for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) pressed his embassy to try to find any Russian dirt on Trump and Manafort that might reside in Ukraine’s intelligence files.

The DNC contractor also asked Chaly's team to try to persuade Ukraine’s president at the time, Petro Poroshenko, to make a statement disparaging Manafort when the Ukrainian leader visited the United States during the 2016 election.  

Chaly said his embassy rebuffed both requests because it recognized they were improper efforts to get a foreign government to try to influence the election against Trump and for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump 'lynching' firestorm is sign of things to come Hillary Clinton has said she'd consider 2020 race if she thought she could win: report Nielsen on leaving Trump administration: 'Saying no and refusing to do it myself was not going to be enough' MORE.

The political pressure continued. Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in crucial U.S. aid to Kiev if Poroshenko did not fire the country’s chief prosecutor. Ukraine would have been bankrupted without the aid, so Poroshenko obliged on March 29, 2016, and fired Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.

At the time, Biden was aware that Shokin’s office was investigating Burisma, the firm employing Hunter Biden, after a December 2015 New York Times article.

What wasn’t known at the time, Shokin told me recently, was that Ukrainian prosecutors were preparing a request to interview Hunter Biden about his activities and the monies he was receiving from Ukraine. If such an interview became public during the middle of the 2016 election, it could have had enormous negative implications for Democrats.

Democrats continued to tap Ukraine for Trump dirt throughout the 2016 election, my reporting shows.

Nellie Ohr, the wife of senior U.S. Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, worked in 2016 as a contractor for Fusion GPS, the same Hillary Clinton–funded opposition research firm that hired Christopher Steele, the British spy who wrote the now-debunked dossier linking Trump to Russia collusion.

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Nellie Ohr testified to Congress that some of the dirt she found on Trump during her 2016 election opposition research came from a Ukrainian parliament member. She also said that she eventually took the information to the FBI through her husband — another way Ukraine got inserted into the 2016 election.

Politics. Pressure. Opposition research. All were part of the Democrats’ playbook on Ukraine long before Trump ever called Zelensky this summer. And as Sen. Murphy’s foray earlier this month shows, it hasn’t stopped.

The evidence is so expansive as to strain the credulity of the Democrats’ current outrage at Trump’s behavior with Ukraine.

Which raises a question: Could it be the Ukraine tale currently being weaved by Democrats and their allies in the media is nothing more than a smoke screen designed to distract us from the forthcoming Justice Department inspector general report into abuses during the Democratic-inspired Russia collusion probe?

It’s a question worth asking.

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. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.