Remember that “perfect” phone call in July 2019 that led to President Donald Trump’s first impeachment? That’s the call in which Trump asked Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to do “a favor” for him—namely to speak with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and announce an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, related to the Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma.
The call came just a week after the White House had ordered the State Department and Pentagon to withhold nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine that had already been authorized. Despite the pressure, Zelenskyy didn’t announce any such investigation, which might have derailed Biden’s presidential campaign.
But now Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is doing the very favor for Trump that Zelenskyy wouldn’t do. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the embattled former president, who is facing a federal indictment for mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
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Comer had threatened to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress for failure to turn over an FBI document created in June 2020 that contained unsubstantiated allegations from a confidential source in Ukraine about Joe and Hunter Biden. Comer said a “whistleblower” had informed lawmakers about the FBI document.
The Washington Post wrote: “It is not hard to figure out why this is unfolding the way it is unfolding. There’s an enormous appetite on the right at the moment for evidence that the FBI and Justice Department are deploying a double standard or that Biden deserves to face criminal charges just as much as former president Donald Trump.”
The allegations that Comer wants to investigate relate to the Bidens and Burisma. And this latest political stunt by Comer could backfire like others.
It’s possible that the committee is simply regurgitating Russian disinformation. The U.S. intelligence community, in an unclassified report released in March 2021 said that “Ukraine-linked individuals with ties to Russian intelligence engaged in activities targeting the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” including “alleging corrupt ties between President Biden, his family, and other U.S. officials and Ukraine.”
“a bunch of malarkey”
Wray had cited the need to protect confidential sources in refusing to turn over the document. But the FBI director eventually relented and allowed all the members of the Oversight Committee to view the redacted document, known as an FD-1023 form, usually a report about information relating to alleged crimes provided to the FBI by an informant.
Wray insisted that the committee members view the document in a secure room known as a SCIF, for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, on Capitol Hill. The viewing occurred on Thursday, just hours before Trump broke the news about his indictment.
It’s unknown why the FBI insisted that committee members view the document in a SCIF. But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wasted no time in rushing out of the room to take notes and reveal the contents of the document to reporters.
Greene and fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida both said Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky allegedly told an FBI source that he had paid $5 million apiece to Hunter Biden and then-Vice President Biden in an attempt to avoid a corruption investigation, the New York Post reported.
“It was all a bribe to get (former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor) Shokin fired,” Greene said in a video that she posted on Twitter. She concluded by saying: “We are going to continue following this investigation; we are going to continue to look into every single thing that we can uncover.”
President Biden dismissed the bribery allegations as a “bunch of malarkey.”
The claim that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin because he was investigating Burisma has been totally debunked. The evidence shows Biden was carrying out U.S. policy when he went to Kyiv and warned then-president Petro Poroshenko that the U.S. would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees until Shokin was removed as prosecutor general. The International Monetary Fund also threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine because Shokin wasn’t pursuing corruption cases.
Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, an independent agency, has said Burisma was not even under investigation when Biden was pushing for Shokin’s removal. But the facts haven’t stopped Republicans from claiming that the FBI form proves that the Bidens took millions in bribes.
The day after Trump’s indictment, the Murdoch-owned New York Post had a front-page cover with photos of both Biden and Trump with the headline “Hail to the Thiefs” and subheadlines “Trump indicted for taking classified documents” and “Ukraine bizman: ‘I bribed Biden for $10M.”
Trump complained that his federal indictment came on the same day that House Republicans gained access to the FBI document, so the bribery allegations got less attention in the news media.
"It's no coincidence they indicted me the very same day it was revealed that the FBI had explosive evidence that Joe Biden took a $5 billion illegal bribe from Ukraine," Trump said Saturday from the North Carolina Republican Party Convention.
But as independent journalist Ed Krassenstein pointed out in a tweet, there are many reasons to question the credibility of the information provided to the FBI in the FD-1023 form that has so excited the MAGAverse.
Moreover, The Washington Post reported that the FBI and Justice Department under then-Attorney General William Barr had reviewed the allegations from the confidential informant and “determined there were no grounds for further investigative steps.”
The Post wrote:
The allegation contained in the document was reviewed by the FBI at the time and was found to not be supported by facts, and the investigation was subsequently dropped with the Trump Justice Department’s sign-off, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
Barr said the information in the June 2020 FBI form was passed along to U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, who began an investigation into Hunter Biden’s overseas business ties and consulting work in 2018. That would mean Weiss, a holdover from the Trump administration, has been in possession of the information for three years, but has not acted on it.
The Washington Post reported that Weiss is nearing a decision on whether to charge Hunter Biden for relatively minor tax- and gun-related violations. The newspaper reported last year that federal agents had concluded that they had enough evidence to charge Biden with failing to report all of his income on tax filings and lying on a form for a gun purchase by denying that he had substance abuse problems.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, wrote in a statement that “much of the information provided by the source (in the June 2020 form) was information Mr. Giuliani had already provided the FBI.” Raskin added:
“We now know what I had long suspected: that Chairman Comer’s subpoena is about recycling stale and debunked Burisma conspiracy theories long peddled by Rudy Giuliani and a Russian agent, sanctioned by former President Trump’s own Treasury Department, as part of the effort to smear President Biden and help Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.”
That Russian agent Raskin is apparently referring to is Andriy Derkach, a former member of Ukraine’s parliament who represented various pro-Russian parties. Among them was the Party of Regions headed by ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which paid millions of dollars to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to work as a consultant.
Here’s how The Washington Post described Derkach’s background:
Derkach, a former member of Ukraine’s Russia-leaning Party of Regions, was educated at the Higher School of the KGB in Moscow before entering business and politics in independent Ukraine after the Soviet Union’s collapse. His father was a longtime KGB officer who later ran independent Ukraine’s intelligence service in the late 1990s and early 2000s before losing his position amid a scandal over Ukrainian authorities’ involvement in the kidnapping and murder of a prominent journalist.
Derkach was mentioned by name by the National Intelligence Council, consisting of the CIA, NSA, and five other U.S. intelligence agencies, in its March 2021 assessment of “Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections.” The report read:
“We assess that President Putin and other senior Russian officials were aware of and probably directed Russia’s influence operations against the 2020 US Presidential election. For example, we assess that Putin had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator who played a prominent role in Russia’s election influence activities. Derkach has ties to Russian officials as well as Russia’s intelligence services.”
A network of Ukraine-linked individuals—including Russian influence agent Konstantin Kilimnik—who were also connected to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) took steps throughout the election cycle to damage US ties to Ukraine, denigrate President Biden and his candidacy, and benefit former President Trump’s prospects for reelection.
Derkach, Kilimnik, and their associates sought to use prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to US officials and audiences. These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations; hired a US firm to petition US officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior US officials. They also made contact with established US media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020.
That U.S. television network was One America News Network. Media Matters for America said the right-wing cable station has a “notable history of acting as a mouthpiece for Russian propaganda,” including spoon-feeding its viewers Kremlin-backed propaganda about the war in Ukraine.
giuliani and derkach
In early December 2019, as the House was moving to impeach Trump, Giuliani traveled to Kyiv with an OAN crew to work on the documentary aired in January 2020. That’s when he met Derkach for the first time, TIME magazine reported. Derkach’s press office released this photo of his meeting with Giuliani, which was posted on his Facebook page that was later banned.
Derkach had caught Giuliani’s attention when he held a November 2019 press conference in Kyiv to push his conspiracy theory of “DemoCorruption,” which holds “that Biden sits atop a vast system of graft that permeates the Democratic Party and colludes with George Soros and other Western billionaires,” TIME said.
Derkach had also been pushing the Kremlin-backed theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign on behalf of Clinton. When Time reporter Simon Shuster visited Derkach in his Kyiv office in 2021, he said Derkach handed him a folder labeled “Reports About Record-Setting Bribe,” which included press clippings, printouts from Twitter, and a letter that Derkach sent to U.S. Senate members accusing Biden and his family of corruption.
“Giuliani is a very capable lawyer. I appreciated his meticulousness,” Derkach told Shuster. “When we spoke, it was very useful for me. He records everything. He writes everything down in his notebook. He never relaxes.”
(That’s the same capable, meticulous lawyer who, in July 2020, was duped by Borat—a character played by actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen—in a compromising scene filmed in a New York hotel room.)
After the OAN documentary aired, Giuliani invited Derkach to New York for further talks in February 2020. Derkach appeared on Giuliani’s podcast.
In the months leading up to the November presidential election, Derkach continued his efforts to spread disinformation about Biden to Giuliani as well as Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
the search for something incriminating
Derkach also released a series of audio tapes of 2016 conversations between Biden and then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in which the U.S. vice president linked financial assistance to firing prosecutor Shokin. Derkach claimed he got the tapes from “investigative journalists.”
There was nothing really incriminating or embarrassing in the heavily edited tapes, TIME reported. But during the first presidential debate in September 2020, Trump repeatedly brought up the tapes, accusing Biden of threatening Ukraine with withholding a billion dollars if Shokin wasn’t removed.
In September 2020, Derkach held a news conference in Kyiv in which he claimed that Burisma’s owner Zlochevsky had laundered money through off-shore banks to pay millions of dollars to a company co-owned by Hunter Biden, Ukraine’s Unian news agency reported.
Hunter Biden did serve on Burisma’s board of directors from 2014 to 2019, and was paid about $600,000 a year, according to the New York Times. His business partner Devon Archer also served on Burisma’s board. Burisma paid them several million dollars for consulting services through their investment firm Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC, Reuters reported.
In September 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Derkach “for his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.”
Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a press release: ”Andrii Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world.”
Last December, the Department of Justice indicted Derkach for a scheme to violate the sanctions by allegedly engaging in bank fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering. Prosecutors said Derkach allegedly concealed his involvement in the purchase and maintenance of two condominiums in Beverly Hills, California. “While participating in a scripted Russian disinformation campaign seeking to undermine U.S. institutions, Derkach simultaneously conspired to fraudulently benefit from a Western lifestyle for himself and his family in the United States,” said Michael J. Driscoll, head of the FBI’s New York office.
But Derkach stands accused of even worse offenses in Ukraine amounting to treason. In January, Zelenskyy announced that Derkach and three other pro-Russian lawmakers had been stripped of their Ukrainian citizenship for choosing “to serve not the people of Ukraine, but the murderers who came to Ukraine.”
In March, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, a British think tank, issued a detailed report on Russia’s “unconventional operations” during the war in Ukraine in which Derkach figured prominently.
Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) made public information in June 2022 that Derkach had been under the control of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, since 2016, and had been receiving installments of U.S. $3 million to $4 million a month, according to the RUSI report.
“Derkach is alleged to have been tasked with establishing a network of private security firms which would assist in maintaining control in a number of towns by pathfinding and assisting Russian forces upon their arrival,” the report said.
More ominously, the report said Ukraine's intelligence agencies believe that "the main direction of Derkach's pro-Russian activities" in the years before 2022 was to influence Ukraine's nuclear energy industry "in the interests of Russia." Russia had plans to seize Ukraine’s nuclear power plants as part of the invasion, and to that end, “the Russian special services recruited employees of nuclear facilities, including from units responsible for the physical security of the facilities."
Ukraine has issued a warrant for the arrest of Rudy’s one-time pal.
Maybe Republicans on the House Oversight Committee should think twice before doing Trump a favor by accepting at face value unsubstantiated bribery allegations regarding Joe Biden and his family, especially if they might be recycling and spreading Russian disinformation. But they won’t.
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