Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani
Ukrainian to US prosecutors: Why don't you want our evidence on Democrats?
Ukrainian law enforcement officials believe they have evidence of wrongdoing by American Democrats and their allies in Kiev, ranging from 2016 election interference to obstructing criminal probes. But, they say, they've been thwarted in trying to get the Trump Justice Department to act.
Kostiantyn Kulyk, deputy head of the Prosecutor General's International Legal Cooperation Department, told me he and other senior law enforcement officials tried unsuccessfully since last year to get visas from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev to deliver their evidence to Washington.
"We were supposed to share this information during a working trip to the United States," Kulyk told me in a wide-ranging interview. "However, the [U.S.] ambassador blocked us from obtaining a visa. She didn't explicitly deny our visa, but also didn't give it to us."
One focus of Ukrainian investigators, Kulyk said, has been money spirited unlawfully out of Ukraine and moved to the United States by businessmen friendly to the prior, pro-Russia regime of Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukrainian businessmen "authorized payments for lobbying efforts directed at the U.S. government," he told me. "In addition, these payments were made from funds that were acquired during the money-laundering operation. We have information that a U.S. company was involved in these payments." That company is tied to one or more prominent Democrats, Ukrainian officials insist.
In another instance, he said, Ukrainian authorities gathered evidence that money paid to an American Democrat allegedly was hidden by Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) during the 2016 election under pressure from U.S. officials. "In the course of this investigation, we found that there was a situation during which influence was exerted on the NABU, so that the name of [the American] would not be mentioned," he said.
Ukraine is infamous for corruption and disinformation operations; its police agencies fight over what is considered evidence of wrongdoing. Kulyk and his bosses even have political fights over who should and shouldn't be prosecuted. Consequently, allegations emanating from Kiev usually are taken with a grain a salt.
But many of the allegations shared with me by more than a half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials are supported by evidence that emerged in recent U.S. court filings and intelligence reports. The Ukrainians told me their evidence includes:
- Sworn statements from two Ukrainian officials admitting that their agency tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton. The effort included leaking an alleged ledger showing payments to then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort;
- Contacts between Democratic figures in Washington and Ukrainian officials that involved passing along dirt on Donald Trump;
- Financial records showing a Ukrainian natural gas company routed more than $3 million to American accounts tied to Hunter Biden, younger son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, who managed U.S.-Ukraine relations for the Obama administration. Biden's son served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings;
- Records that Vice President Biden pressured Ukrainian officials in March 2016 to fire the prosecutor who oversaw an investigation of Burisma Holdings and who planned to interview Hunter Biden about the financial transfers;
- Correspondence showing members of the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Kiev interfered or applied pressure in criminal cases on Ukrainian soil;
- Disbursements of as much as $7 billion in Ukrainian funds that prosecutors believe may have been misappropriated or taken out of the country, including to the United States.
Ukrainian officials say they don't want to hand the evidence to FBI agents working in Ukraine because they believe the bureau has a close relationship with the NABU and the U.S. Embassy. "It is no secret in Ukrainian political circles that the NABU was created with American help and tried to exert influence during the U.S. presidential election," Kulyk told me.
Kulyk's boss, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, told me he has enough evidence - particularly involving Biden, his family and money spirited out of Ukraine - to warrant a meeting with U.S. Attorney General William Barr. "I'm looking forward to meeting with the attorney general of the United States in order to start and facilitate our joint investigation regarding the appropriation of another $7 billion in U.S. dollars with Ukrainian legal origin," Lutsenko said.
I wrote last week that Biden, in 2016, pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Ukraine's top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma.
Kulyk confirmed Ukraine is investigating that alleged incident: "We have evidence and witnesses stating that Joe Biden applied pressure on Ukrainian law enforcement to stop the investigation."
Ukrainians officials have gone public in recent days with their frustrations after months of trying to deliver the evidence quietly to the Trump Department of Justice (DOJ) fizzled. Unable to secure visas from the U.S. Embassy, some Ukrainian law enforcement officials sought backdoor channels, Kulyk said.
One of those avenues involved reaching out last fall to a former federal prosecutor from the George W. Bush years, according to interviews. He delivered a written summary of some of the Ukrainian allegations to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, along with an offer to connect U.S. investigators with individuals purporting to have the evidence. There was no response or follow-up, according to multiple people directly familiar with the effort.
More recently, President Trump's private attorney Rudy Giuliani - former mayor and former U.S. attorney in New York City - learned about some of the allegations while, on behalf of the Trump legal team, he looked into Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.
Since then, Lutsenko and others have talked with other American lawyers about helping to file U.S. legal action to recover money they believe was wrongly taken from their country.
"It's like no one at DOJ is listening. There is some compelling evidence that should at least be looked at, evaluated, but the door seems shut at both State and Justice," said an American who has been contacted for help and briefed on the evidence.
State Department officials declined to address whether they denied or slow-walked visas for Ukrainian officials. "Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases," a department spokesperson said.
Ukraine's evidence, if true, would mark the first documented allegation of Democrats receiving assistance from a foreign power in their efforts to help Clinton win the 2016 election.
"It looks like there is some evidence emerging that there could have been a proxy war between Russia and Ukraine to secure their preferred American president during the 2016 race," said a former top intelligence official who now advises the Trump administration on intelligence policy.
There is public-source information, in Ukraine and in the United States, that gives credence to some of what Ukrainian prosecutors allege.
A court in Ukraine formally concluded that law enforcement officials there illegally tried to intervene in the 2016 U.S. election by leaking documents of Manafort's business dealings after he was named Trump's campaign chairman. And a Ukrainian parliamentarian released a purported tape recording of a top Ukrainian law enforcement official bragging that he was responsible for the leak and was trying to help Clinton win.
Lutsenko told Hill.TV in an interview aired last week that he has opened a criminal investigation into those allegations.
Nellie Ohr, wife of a senior Justice official and a researcher for the Fusion GPS opposition research firm, testified to Congress last year that some of Fusion GPS's research on Trump-Russia ties came from a Ukrainian parliamentarian. The Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump.
Although Ohr acknowledged the Ukrainian source, lawmakers did not press her to be more specific.
And Politico reported in 2017 on evidence of Ukraine's U.S. embassy helping the Clinton campaign to discredit Trump. "A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia," the newspaper reported.
Separately, the conservative nonprofit Citizens United last month filed a lawsuit seeking to force the State Department to disclose all information it possesses about Hunter Biden and his business partners involved with Ukraine-based Burisma Holdings.
If Ukrainian prosecutors can augment their allegations with real evidence, there could be a true case of collusion worth investigating.
The only question is why the U.S. government so far hasn't taken interest - and whether Attorney General Barr will change that.
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.