Parliament member demands to know whether his country’s government targeted Trump in the 2016 campaign.
KIEV – A Ukrainian member of parliament has requested a criminal investigation into possible meddling by his country’s government into last year’s U.S. presidential elections, claiming the interference has “seriously damaged Ukrainian-American relations.”
In a July 24 letter to Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andrei Derkach, an independent MP who was formerly aligned with a pro-Russian party, requested that authorities launch a pretrial investigation into “illegal interference in the election of President of the United States organized by a criminal organization.” This organization, he said, consisted of senior members of the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, government officials, and other public figures.
Derkach’s accusations center around reports, first published in POLITICO in January, that Ukrainian politicians and diplomats may have cooperated with people connected to the Democratic National Committee to hamper Donald Trump’s candidacy and bolster Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. The key figure involved has denied any coordination with the DNC.
Interest in these claims gained new life after a tweet by President Trump on July 25, in which he called on the US attorney general’s office to investigate “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage the Trump campaign.”
Derkach also claimed that the campaign against candidate Trump included Ukrainian officials’ announcement last year of reported payments of more than $12 million by Ukraine’s previous leader, Viktor Yanukovych, to Paul Manafort, who was one of Trump’s campaign managers during the election.
Manafort previously worked for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions until the Ukrainian leader was overthrown in a violent revolution in 2014. After Yanukovych fled the country, officials discovered extensive lists of alleged off-the-books payments — so-called “black ledgers — by Yanukovych’s political party to various political actors in Ukraine.
Subsequent documents publicized by a Ukrainian legislator, Serhiy Leshchenko, suggested that Manafort concealed some of the money he received by transferring the payments through off-shore accounts.
Manafort’s actual signature does not appear anywhere in the ledgers, however, and he denies receiving any illegal disbursements. None of the disclosed documents have been verified for their validity.
In his request to the prosecutor general — copies which he provided to POLITICO in the original Ukrainian and in English translation — Derkach claimed that the alleged meddling by Ukrainian officials created the impression that Kiev was an “unreliable and harmful partner” to Washington, resulted in a temporary freeze in contacts between the two and led to a reduction in U.S. financial assistance to Ukraine.
“Only a transparent and thorough investigation into the unlawful interference of Ukrainian officials with the U.S. election campaign can restore the trust of our strategic partner,” Derkach wrote.
Relations between the United States and Ukraine reached a low point shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, but have since recovered.
Trump met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office in June, and top administration officials have strongly backed Kiev in its war against Moscow-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Kurt Volker, Washington’s special envoy to peace talks over the conflict with Russia, floated the possibility that Washington could overturn a ban, in place since the conflict with Russia began three years ago, on providing lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials confirmed that a criminal investigation had been opened on August 1. However, on Wednesday, in a post on the general prosecutor’s Facebook page, authorities said they were looking into the possible “publicizing information from a pretrial investigation” and not interference in the U.S. elections.
In the official registration of the criminal case — which Derkach posted on his Facebook page — officials said the investigation would look into whether Ukrainian authorities defamed Manafort by publicizing his possible connection to the black ledgers, “creating the impression of [Ukraine’s] illegal interference in the US elections.”
Officials of the corruption bureau have said that Manafort himself is not under investigation.
Ukraine’s actions during the 2016 campaign have become a focus for Republican leaders and pundits, as pressure mounts on President Trump over alleged ties to Russia.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a letter last month to examine whether Alexandra Chalupa, a former consultant with the DNC, violated laws governing work with foreign governments, by failing to register possible cooperation with the Ukrainian embassy in Washington D.C.
A conservative watch-dog group, Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT), also filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming Chalupa “knowingly solicited” damaging information on Manafort from Ukrainian officials.
Chalupa, for her part, told CNN that “I was not an opposition researcher for the DNC, and the DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian Embassy to collect information.”
By Ukrainian law, parliament deputies can initiate criminal investigations unilaterally. Derkach refused a request to speak on-the-record about his accusations, however, and provided only open source information as evidence.
He himself is prominent businessman, and owner of a local television and radio company. He served as an MP in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and at one point led a parliamentary group calling for closer relations with Russia. Derkach’s father, Leonid, is also a well-known government figure, and served as head of Ukraine’s security services in the early 2000s.
Officials of the corruption board declined to comment on Derkach’s claims against them, saying they could not comment on an open investigation, especially one being conducted by another government body. They said however that they were not entirely surprised by the accusations.
“The specificity of the Ukrainian procedural law makes it possible to register [criminal] proceedings based on any information, even publications in the so-called ‘yellow press,’” NABU officials said in a statement in reply to questions from POLITICO.
“Often these [accusations], which were the basis of the proceedings, then disappear, but the investigations themselves continue,” they added.