In 2015, the Obama administration supported IMF aid to Ukraine in the form of billions in loan guarantees. In one instance, $1.8 billion of the $17 billion total disappeared into the bank account of Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Kolomoisky owned PrivatBank, the giant Ukrainian bank through which government employees receive their pay, and other large national enterprises manage their finances.
PrivatBank has been under constant suspicion of corruption for years. After the $1.8 billion went missing – and after the bank was subsequently declared insolvent – PrivatBank was nationalized in 2016.
A bank-examiner investigation at the time later reported the following: “In early 2018, the central bank released the findings of an investigation by corporate investigations consultancy Kroll that said that, prior to nationalization, Privatbank had been subjected to ‘a large-scale and coordinated fraud over at least a 10-year period ending in December 2016.’” The IMF reportedly has continued its pressure on Ukraine to find billions in missing funds, including the “disappeared” $1.8 billion in U.S.-backed loan money.
Kolomoisky’s offshore headquarters also has the same address as Ukrainian gas company Burisma, founded and nominally headed by former government minister Mykola Zlochevsky. Kolomoisky is widely thought (by journalists and other interested observers) to be the actual, shadow controller of Burisma. Zlochevsky sold his Burisma shares to PrivatBank prior to 2012 (see Anti-Corruption Action Center summary), and Kolomoisky is the actual controller of the natural gas leases Burisma operates in.
These bare facts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption in Ukraine, which is routinely called one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Far from being one-offs, these situations are merely two that involve American interests.
The Obama administration pressured Ukraine in 2016 to stop an anti-corruption investigation of Burisma. Then-Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainians U.S. loan guarantees would be withheld if the prosecutor-general pursuing the investigation was not fired. The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was fired. Biden’s son Hunter had been on the board of Burisma since 2014.
In January 2017, Politico published an article outlining the efforts of Democrats to leverage information from Ukraine to “sabotage” Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016. In April 2019, a Ukrainian embassy official confirmed to John Solomon that at meetings in the White House in early 2016, U.S. officials had expressed special interest in Ukrainian cooperation on two topics: curtailing a Ukrainian investigation into Burisma, and obtaining damaging information on Paul Manafort (the focus of the Democrats’ anti-Trump “dirt” campaign, as regards Ukraine).
This past week, Laura Ingraham had a series on Fox News providing new information and additional insight into the 2016 White House meetings, which were coordinated by NSC official Eric Ciaramella.
Events since 2017
But the Trump administration had the means to already be aware of these things before the notorious presidential phone call in July 2019.
Fast forward. According to officials from the U.S. and Ukraine who spoke to John Solomon in September 2019, the former and current governments of Ukraine (under Poroshenko and Zelensky, respectively) made attempts beginning in the summer of 2018 to “hand over evidence about the conduct of Americans they believe might be involved in violations of U.S. law during the Obama years.”
The Ukrainian officials, reports Solomon, said “their efforts to get their allegations to U.S. authorities were thwarted first by the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, which failed to issue timely visas allowing them to visit America.
“Then,” says Solomon, “the Ukrainians hired a former U.S. attorney — not Giuliani — to hand-deliver the evidence of wrongdoing to the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, but the federal prosecutors never responded.
“The U.S. attorney, a respected American, confirmed the Ukrainians’ story” to Solomon.
Rudy Giuliani “got wind” of what was going on and began an investigation of his own in November 2018, although he reportedly did not go to Ukraine. By November 2018 at the latest, in other words, President Trump would have been aware of the above series of events. As discussed below, he may well have been aware of them before that.
This information is consistent with implications from the recording Giuliani associate Lev Parnas made of a donors’ dinner with Donald Trump in April 2018. The recording surfaced in the media this past weekend, provided by Parnas (who is under federal indictment for campaign finance violations in 2018).
In the recording, we hear Trump saying the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, needs to be removed. Parnas, for his part, is manifestly an advocate of removing Yovanovitch, which seems to be one of the motives behind his FEC violations. This point is not to be glossed over, but neither does it constitute a refutation of the other evidence and reporting about the Ukraine situation, which come from separate sources.
It is worth noting that no one present at the donors’ dinner (or anywhere else, for that matter), other than President Trump, had the power to remove Yovanovitch from her post. The media’s thematic claim that Trump “ordered” Yovanovitch removed, as if addressing someone at the dinner, is thus a fatuous characterization. Critics could argue that Trump spoke carelessly or excitably.
Yovanovitch was recalled from the embassy in Kyiv more than a year later, in May 2019.
Fast forward again. A State Department official told Solomon in September 2019 that the State Department, aware of Giuliani’s investigation, put Giuliani in contact in August 2019 with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Giuliani was debriefed by the State Department on 11 August 2019 after meeting with Yermak in Spain in early August. In other words, State initiated the formal outreach and was in the loop the whole time.
This Giuliani connection was prompted by State in July 2019. The meeting with Yermak took place apparently some 10 to 14 days after the 25 July phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Trump was no doubt aware of what Giuliani was doing. (It’s very likely the Democrats on Capitol Hill, and some personnel on the NSC staff, were also aware of it. For reference, the so-called “whistleblower’s” brief on Trump and Ukraine, written in the form of a lawyer’s brief, was dated 12 August 2019.)
The basis for requiring investigations
By 25 July 2019, therefore, we had:
- Evidence of corrupt activities in Ukraine, requiring investigation and in at least one instance involving U.S. aid.
- Evidence that Ukraine thought the activities were worth investigating.
- Evidence that the previous U.S. administration worked to get one Ukrainian investigation, potentially involving Americans (including the vice president’s son), shut down. (Followed by reporting that Ukraine restarted an investigation of Burisma in April 2019.)
- Reports that, starting in 2018, the U.S. embassy in Ukraine had impeded Ukrainian efforts to hand over evidence involving Americans to U.S. officials.
- Reports that in 2016, Americans, including officials in the Obama White House, sought help from Ukraine in obtaining negative information about a one-time member of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort. Apparently, however, the FBI shut down (or suspended) a federal investigation of Manafort at the same time the information from Ukraine was being solicited. In other words, the purpose for obtaining the information did not appear to be pursuing the official investigation of Manafort, which had been opened in 2014. The FBI “opened” another inquiry into Manafort in August 2016.
Meanwhile, there has never been any evidence that Trump demanded an “announcement” of a Ukrainian investigation – of Burisma or any other entity or person – as a condition of aid to Ukraine. That allegation has been manufactured from thin air by the media, and repeated by Democratic politicians.
One additional note, not previously discussed as far as I am aware. The Trump administration is not necessarily dependent on news reporting for its information about what U.S. agency officials were saying to each other, or to Ukrainians, during any of the timeframes under consideration here.
All communications via government IT methods (phones, email, text messages) are subject to monitoring and are recorded. U.S. officials have no expectation of privacy when communicating via those methods. It is not just the president’s right but his duty to have those records reviewed if he sees a reason for it.
There is a great deal from this story that the public knows about only from the media, but that the Trump administration probably has direct evidence of from agency records.
Even if we disregard the strong likelihood that there is government-certified evidence of the activities outlined here, the point remains: no case can be made that they do not demand investigation.
It simply doesn’t matter that Joe Biden announced a bid for the presidency in April 2019.
It does matter that Trump has the authority, period, to make Giuliani his personal intermediary for investigations of this kind. If Giuliani doesn’t seem like a good pick, that’s a matter of opinion and judgment. It is not a criminal or impeachable concern.
Trump did the right thing – did his job – in taking an interest in the Ukrainian investigations, and wanting to ensure they were pursued, advanced, and done in cooperation with the U.S.
Other considerations were also in play when aid to Ukraine was on hold and under review in 2019. It’s not necessary to point out that aid to Ukraine was never delayed; although it wasn’t. The meaningful point is that linking Ukrainian performance on investigating corruption to the distribution of aid is subject to President Trump’s discretion, and meets any test of reasonable argument as a matter of state.
To suggest any of this is impeachable is to invert the concept of ethics itself. Such an inversion is worse than ridiculous; it is reprehensible.