How the Obama White House engaged Ukraine to give Russia collusion narrative an early boost
As Donald Trump began his meteoric rise to the presidency, the Obama White House summoned Ukrainian authorities to Washington to coordinate ongoing anti-corruption efforts inside Russia’s most critical neighbor.
The January 2016 gathering, confirmed by multiple participants and contemporaneous memos, brought some of Ukraine’s top corruption prosecutors and investigators face to face with members of former President Obama’s National Security Council (NSC), FBI, State Department and Department of Justice (DOJ).
U.S. officials “kept talking about how important it was that all of our anti-corruption efforts be united,” said Andrii Telizhenko, then a political officer in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington tasked with organizing the meeting.
Telizhenko, who no longer works for the Ukrainian Embassy, 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.
That 2014 investigation was led by the FBI and focused heavily on GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort, whose firm long had been tied to Trump through his partner and Trump pal, Roger Stone.
Agents interviewed Manafort in 2014 about whether he received undeclared payments from the party of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and whether he engaged in improper foreign lobbying.
The FBI shut down the case without charging Manafort.
Telizhenko said he couldn’t remember whether Manafort was mentioned during the January 2016 meeting. But he and other attendees recalled DOJ officials asking investigators from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) if they could help locate new evidence about the Party of Regions’ payments and its dealings with Americans.
“It was definitely the case that led to the charges against Manafort and the leak to U.S. media during the 2016 election,” he said.
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