[Note: the video on autoplay is two paragraphs down.]
On Wednesday evening, Laura Ingraham, in her show The Angle on Fox News Channel, presented a segment in which she discussed information from email records about a January 2016 meeting with Ukrainian officials coordinated by NSC official Eric Ciaramella (widely assumed, though not confirmed, to be the “whistleblower” on the Trump-Zelensky phone call of July 2019).
Note that Fox News, by rule, is not using Ciaramella’s name in conjunction with any reference to the “whistleblower.” Thus, it is redacted in Laura Ingraham’s report. However, we know from White House records that Ciaramella was involved in this and other relevant meetings; it’s whether he is the “whistleblower” that is not definitively established.
Ingraham’s information has actually been out there for quite a while. I wrote about it briefly in December 2019 (hat-tipping Gateway Pundit and John Solomon). Although the visitor-log record of the meeting had been the subject of analysis and hypotheses for some time before that – the meeting had never been difficult to track down, and Internet sleuths were onto it shortly after the Politico article, by Kenneth Vogel, in January 2017 – the Solomon and Laurence Sellin articles were in-depth treatments with additional, explanatory details.
But Ingraham obtained her information through an avenue – the State Department emails she describes – that serves to confirm some previous speculation about the White House meeting, and to shed some new light on it as well.
Ingraham’s fresh insight comes from the fact that the emails her investigators got hold of involve reporter Kenneth Vogel, now with the New York Times, who was researching a story in early 2019 on the Obama White House’s coordination with Ukrainian officials. The email series began on 1 May 2019, and entailed questions from Vogel about the nature of the January 2016 interaction.
There is a tremendous amount to unpack from the event and its surrounding context. But I want to focus here on just one aspect of the new information from Ingraham’s investigation. That aspect is its interesting divergence from previous reporting on the same meeting – as well as from a Ukrainian perspective on the particular topic I am interested in, which is the extent to which the Obama administration was or wasn’t cooperating with Ukraine on the highest-profile Ukrainian investigations in this saga: those into Burisma and Paul Manafort.
The odd thing is that the extant reporting is all over the map on that. Readers will see what I mean in a moment. At the outset, however, we should stop to note what Laura Ingraham highlighted on Wednesday: that Kenneth Vogel’s 2019 research project never resulted in an article being published.
Ingraham suggests that’s because Joe Biden had announced his 2020 candidacy on 25 April 2019, just days before the first Vogel email she refers to. In her account, it sounds like the series of email queries was going nowhere by 3 May. That may well have been due to Biden’s new status as a 2020 candidate. The New York Times could have quashed the story.
That naturally raises the question of what the story would have revealed. We don’t know if it would have been more than what John Solomon had just written, the same day Biden announced his candidacy (i.e., 25 April 2019), on the very topic of the January 2016 White House meeting coordinated by Eric Ciaramella.
But it does sound as if a Vogel story would have presented a different take on the purpose of the meeting’s discussion about investigating Burisma.
Ukraine and Burisma
Here, as a refresher, is what John Solomon was told about the Burisma discussion by former Ukrainian embassy official Andriy Telizhenko, who was present at the meeting on 19 January 2016 (all emphasis added):
According to Telizhenko, U.S. officials told the Ukrainians they would prefer that Kiev drop the Burisma probe and allow the FBI to take it over. The Ukrainians did not agree. But then Joe Biden pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Ukraine’s chief prosecutor in March 2016, as I previously reported. The Burisma case was transferred to NABU, then shut down.
Contrast that summary – from a Ukrainian embassy official present at the meeting – with Vogel’s pitch to his State Department contact (from the transcript in the Ingraham segment):
We [i.e., NYT] are going to report that (State Department official) Elizabeth Zentos attended a meeting at the White House on 1/19/2016 with Ukrainian with Ukrainian prosecutors as well as … [redacted (Ciaramella – J.E.)] from the NSC … the subject discussed included efforts within the United States government to support prosecutions, in Ukraine and the United Kingdom, of Burisma Holdings … and concerns that Hunter Biden’s position with the company could complicate such efforts.
Whoever Vogel’s source was seems to have described the U.S. position in the meeting as being somewhat different from Telizhenko’s account.
Perhaps Vogel was being told something, as a counter-narrative, that sounded better than what Telizhenko related to Solomon.
And it might be possible to spin the wording of the Vogel version to accommodate Telizhenko’s blunt characterization. E.g., the U.S. personnel at the meeting – who included Catherine Newcombe, an attorney in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development – might have had it in mind to assure the Ukrainians of their support for the prosecutions, as a prelude to suggesting the U.S. should take over because of the Biden angle.
That charitable reading of the Vogel version doesn’t really fit with the picture of then-Vice President Joe Biden getting contentious with Ukraine two months later, in March 2016, and demanding that the prosecutor handling the Burisma case, Victor Shokin, be fired. The account from Andriy Telizhenko would be more in line with the nature of the Biden intervention, as it has been described to us (by Biden himself).
Ukraine and Manafort
But then there’s this article from May 2018, written by Alya Shandra, Editor-in-Chief of Euromaidan Press, which provides insight through a different, related vector into the problem. Shandra was writing at the time to counter a short-lived theme-let in U.S. MSM reporting that the Trump administration had pressured Ukraine to “stop” cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation (with its extensive focus on Paul Manafort), as a condition of receiving the famous Javelin antitank missiles you’ve heard so much about.
The theme-let went nowhere at the time. But it’s interesting that it hasn’t been revived in the last several months to bolster the more recent, very similar theme that the Trump administration pressured Ukraine to investigate Burisma as a condition of receiving military aid.
Shandra’s main point in May 2018 was that Ukraine had never been cooperating with Mueller on the Manafort probe, because Mueller had never asked for cooperation from Ukraine. Therefore, Ukraine couldn’t have stopped cooperating, or have come under pressure from anyone to do so.
The final sentences of her article are of special interest to us. The idea that Ukraine had been pressured to stop cooperating, or at any rate to not cooperate, is what she refers to as [New York Times author Andrew] “Kramer’s hypothesis”:
However, all in all, Kramer’s hypothesis is extremely unlikely due to the fact that neither Mueller nor other US investigators were cooperating with Ukraine regarding Manafort, despite Ukraine’s multiple attempts to establish such a cooperation, and that the investigation of Ukrainian prosecutors into Manafort could not be finished without help from US colleagues. Therefore, Ukraine’s effective freezing of the cases had little, if any effect, on Mueller’s Russian probe, and was probably of little interest to Donald Trump.
But a question worth asking in this matter is why, starting from 2014, had the US ignored Ukrainian appeals to cooperate on the Manafort probes?
Why, indeed? We know from prior information that the DOJ had had an investigation of Manafort’s activities in Ukraine going since at least 2014. Manafort was reportedly under electronic surveillance from 2014 to (probably) March 2016, when he joined the Trump campaign. Andriy Telizhenko told John Solomon in April 2019 that reviving the largely dormant Manafort probe, on the U.S. side, was a key point of discussion in several meetings between Ukrainian and Obama administration officials in early 2016:
Telizhenko … said U.S. officials volunteered during the meetings — one of which was held in the White House’s Old Executive Office Building — that they had an interest in reviving a closed investigation into payments to U.S. figures from Ukraine’s Russia-backed Party of Regions.
Kenneth Vogel reported at Politico in January 2017 that Alexandra Chalupa, with her connections in the Democratic Party and the Obama State Department and NSC, had pumped her Ukrainian network during that period for all the information she could get on Manafort, including those payments.
And one of the Ukrainians at the meeting on 19 January 2016, Artem Sytnyk – director of NABU, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine – was the one who in May 2016 released to the media information about Manafort from the “black ledger,” which allegedly recorded payments made to him by the Party of Regions.
But with all this interest on the U.S. side, and full U.S. knowledge that Ukraine was investigating the same matters (the “black ledger” had been compiled in Ukraine), there had apparently been no request to Ukraine for formal cooperation – and requests for cooperation from Ukraine had been ignored?
To cap it all, the U.S. investigation of Manafort, which American officials had stressed as important in the meetings with Ukrainians in early 2016, was shut down in March 2016, at the same time Ukrainians were being pressed informally (i.e., through Alexandra Chalupa) for their information on Manafort.
What was going on here? At the very least, the Obama administration’s dealings with Ukraine, especially as regards Burisma and Paul Manafort, sound like topics no one has a good, consistent story line for.
That’s a big red flag, especially in conjunction with multiple meetings in a short span of time involving Ukrainians, the National Security Council, the State Department, the DOJ, and (in February 2016; see the Lawrence Sellin piece) the U.S. Treasury Department. This clearly wasn’t about the military defense of Ukraine.
It’s curious that Telizhenko remembers hearing about U.S. preferences and interests during the period in question – late 2015 to early 2016 – but doesn’t seem to have had any conclusions to report about where that led.
The observable outcomes, at any rate, were that information about Paul Manafort was leaked out of Ukraine during the 2016 campaign, and the Shokin investigation of Burisma was dropped.
But if Alya Shandra is right, Ukrainian observers were left wondering why they were never solicited for formal cooperation on these matters the U.S. felt so strongly about. In retrospect, that is a very reasonable thing to wonder.
It’s certainly a very obvious thing to investigate. Circumstantially, this sequence is festooned with red flags. In December, I suggested that Trump, in taking an interest in the apparent corruption in Ukraine and dispatching Rudy Giuliani and William Barr – in their separate capacities – to look into it, had gotten himself right over a very sensitive target. Hence the extreme reaction with the “whistleblower” charade, and the prospect of a trumped-up impeachment proceeding.
The latest developments only reinforce that sense about what’s going on. I don’t think that, for Democrats, this is really about saving Joe Biden so he can run for president this year. It looks and smells like something bigger than that.
The thesis of the December article was that “Russiagate” and the Mueller operation were about trying to frame Russian shenanigans so they could be hung on Trump. Whereas the Ukraine maneuver – the “whistleblower,” the impeachment – is about trying to shield Democrats’ activities in Ukraine from inspection.
There were no calls for another special counsel in the Ukraine case. The card drawn from the deck seemed to read: “Go directly to impeachment. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.” The Democrats were willing to have the Mueller team poke around into all kinds of things for nearly two years to try to take down Trump on the “Russia” premise. They don’t want an investigation of U.S. activities in Ukraine – one that’s run outside of their direct control – for even two minutes.
It looks like we know where to start digging. With any luck, Barr and Durham have already seen that. It sounds as if Giuliani has, but for actionable findings, we need it to come from the DOJ.
It’s important that Congress not prejudice any outcomes, by overruling needed revelations in the interest of making procedural points about the proper foundation for impeachment. The House Democrats have not advanced a proper foundation, to be sure. But if making that point means shutting down a search for the truth about what the interference really was in the 2016 election, America will never cease regretting that.
“Secure from general quarters” is not the command for this moment. The threat to the Republic is still out there, not yet fully understood, and it will not be neutralized by merely voting down the House’s ill-founded articles of impeachment.