In another piece chronicling the shady goings-on with Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities during the run-up to the 2016 election, The Hill’s John Solomon has reported that the Barack Obama White House had tried to build the Russia “collusion” narrative with Ukrainian help as early as January of 2016.
Solomon has done previous reports regarding Ukrainian prosecutors and the country’s National Anti-corruption Bureau, or NABU. In one of them, the investigative journalist reported that, as vice president, Joe Biden may have interfered with a Ukrainian anti-corruption investigation against his son.
Now, Solomon reported, agents have told him that the former administration had asked them to take a new look at a case involving Paul Manafort, a man who would serve as Donald Trump’s campaign manager from May to August 2016, as it was becoming more likely that Trump would be taking on Hillary Clinton.
It’s worth noting, as Solomon does, that “Ukraine is riddled with corruption, Russian meddling and intense political conflicts, so one must carefully consider any Ukrainian accounts.”
However, his latest report centers on a meeting in early 2016 when Ukrainian officials were brought to Washington to meet with members of the Obama administration.
“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),” Solomon wrote in the piece, which was published Thursday.
“The agenda suggested the purpose was training and coordination. But Ukrainian participants said it didn’t take long — during the meetings and afterward — to realize the Americans’ objectives included two politically hot investigations: one that touched Vice President Joe Biden’s family and one that involved a lobbying firm linked closely to then-candidate Trump.”
Solomon intimates that the lobbying firm was run by business partners Manafort and Trump supporter Roger Stone.
“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.”
The embassy official said that the administration said “that they had an interest in reviving a closed investigation into payments to U.S. figures from Ukraine’s Russia-backed Party of Regions,” according to Solomon.
That investigation, which started in 2014, had focused on Manafort and whether he and others had received undeclared payments from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was decidedly pro-Kremlin, or whether they had broken laws related to lobbying for foreign powers. The FBI hadn’t charged Manafort in the case.
According to Solomon, 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 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,” Telizhenko said, presumably referring to the leak of ledgers to The New York Times showing Manafort had received payment from Yanukovych’s party.
(That leak was published Aug. 14, 2016. Manafort quit the Trump campaign on Aug. 19, 2016. A Politico report from the time said Manafort’s position in the campaign had already been downgraded by the Trump camp over concerns about Manafort’s ties to Russia.)
“That makes the January 2016 meeting one of the earliest documented efforts to build the now-debunked Trump-Russia collusion narrative and one of the first to involve the Obama administration’s intervention,” Solomon wrote.
According to Solomon, the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, said he doesn’t remember specific cases discussed during the January 2016 meeting, but says “he soon saw evidence in Ukraine of political meddling in the U.S. election.”
“Kholodnytskyy said the key evidence against Manafort — a ledger showing payments from the Party of Regions — was known to Ukrainian authorities since 2014 but was suddenly released in May 2016 by the U.S.-friendly NABU, after Manafort was named Trump’s campaign chairman: ‘Somebody kept this black ledger secret for two years and then showed it to the public and the U.S. media. It was extremely suspicious.'”
Meanwhile, Kostiantyn Kulyk, a Ukrainian prosecutor, says that he saw evidence after the January meeting that Ukrainian officials were stepping up to help the administration with the Party of Regions case.
“Yes, there was a lot of talking about needing help and then the ledger just appeared in public,” he said told Solomon.
He also claims that while they found other officials who had taken money from the Party of Regions — including former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig, who was charged earlier this month with hiding information related to his work for Ukraine — U.S. Justice officials weren’t terribly interested.
“They just discussed Manafort. This was all and only what they wanted. Nobody else,” Kulyk said.
Manafort, it’s worth remembering, didn’t join the Trump campaign until March 2016 and didn’t become campaign manager until more than a month later. However, it’s also worth noting he was already linked to Trump via Stone — who was never officially involved with the campaign but remained a satellite of it.
This does have to be taken with some level of skepticism, obviously. As Solomon himself points out, Ukrainian officialdom is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. That said, Solomon has done some of the most comprehensive investigative reporting on the investigation into Russian collusion — including how it had begun earlier than originally thought.
If this is even remotely true — and this is certainly far from Infowars-y conspiracy theorizing — it means that the Obama administration wanted to restart an investigation that just so happened to be linked, if not directly, to the Republican front-runner in a campaign year.
This was after the FBI decided not to charge Manafort after an investigation two years prior.
Let’s be clear here:
Paul Manafort is, as the jury from “The Producers” might say, incredibly guilty. That being said, trying to reopen the case after the FBI decided not to charge him sounds a bit strange as an administration priority, particularly given the role that the “Russian collusion” case played in the media.
Did the White House and the Ukrainians do Hillary Clinton’s dirty work for her by trying to link the Trump campaign and the Kremlin? This likely isn’t the end of the revelations in this department.
However, one thing is for sure, as Solomon notes: “What is already confirmed by Ukrainians looks a lot more like assertive collusion with a foreign power than anything detailed in the Mueller report.”
That’s a damning statement indeed.
It’s one Democrats and the media will try to ignore, but it’s what Americans should never forget.
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