As Ukraine underwent dramatic changes in 2014, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden played a critical role in the Obama administration’s involvement in the revolution that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Following the revolution, Biden would use his influence to help force the creation of the troubled National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). Notably, during the 2016 election campaign, information leaked from NABU about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort that helped to create the false narrative that Trump colluded with Russia to win the election.
Biden also would use the threat of withholding $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to pressure Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire the prosecutor general. At the time, the prosecutor had been investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas giant that had appointed Biden’s son, Hunter, as a board member.
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, recently said, “Keep your eye on Ukraine.” In his comments to the Washington Examiner, Giuliani highlighted the “plot to create an investigation of President Trump, based on a false charge of conspiracy with the Russians to affect the 2016 elections.”
Obama Administration’s 2014 Involvement
On or shortly before Feb. 4, 2014, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs in the Obama State Department, had a conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, which was intercepted and leaked.
In the call, Nuland and Pyatt appeared to be discussing the ouster of Yanukovych and the installation of opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister.
Nuland favored opposition leader Yatsenyuk over his main rivals Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok, telling Pyatt: “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the … what he needs is Klitschko and Tyahnybok on the outside.”
Toward the end of the conversation, then-Vice President Biden was discussed as being willing to help cement the changeover in Ukraine:
Geoffrey Pyatt: “We want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych, but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place.”
Victoria Nuland: “So, on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note [Biden’s national security adviser Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need Biden, and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.”
Nuland and Pyatt met with Ukrainian opposition leaders Klitschko and Yatsenyuk, along with then-President Yanukovych, just days later on Feb. 7, 2014.
Events then moved swiftly. On Feb. 22, 2014, Yanukovych was removed as president of Ukraine and fled to Russia. On Feb. 27, 2014, Yatsenyuk, the candidate favored by Nuland, was installed as prime minister of Ukraine. Klitschko was left out. Notably, Yatsenyuk would later resign in April 2016 amid corruption accusations.
Biden’s Involvement in Ukraine
In April, Biden would get personally involved, as would his son, Hunter. On April 18, 2014, Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of directors for Burisma–one of the largest natural gas companies in Ukraine.
Four days later, on April 22, 2014, Vice President Biden traveled to Ukraine, offering his political support and $50 million in aid for Yatsenyuk’s shaky new government. Poroshenko, a billionaire politician, was elected as president of Ukraine on May 25, 2014.
Biden became close to both men and helped Ukraine obtain a four-year, $17.5 billion IMF package in March 2015.
In October 2016, Foreign Policy wrote a lengthy article, “What Will Ukraine Do Without Uncle Joe,” which described Biden’s role in the removal of Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Victor Shokin. Shokin, the choice of Poroshenko, was portrayed as fumbling a major corruption case and “hindering an investigation into two high-ranking state prosecutors arrested on corruption charges.”
The United States pushed for Shokin’s removal, and Biden led the effort by personally threatening to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees. In an interview with The Atlantic, Biden recalled telling Poroshenko: “Petro, you’re not getting your billion dollars. It’s OK, you can keep the [prosecutor] general. Just understand—we’re not paying if you do.” Shokin was removed by Poroshenko shortly thereafter, in early 2016.
But according to reporting by The Hill, at the time of his firing, Shokin had been investigating Burisma. Shokin’s investigation into Burisma had previously been disclosed in June 2017, by Front News International.
Burisma is owned by Nikolai Zlochevsky (also known as Mykola Zlochevsky), the former minister of ecology for Ukraine. According to Front News, Zlochevsky issued a “special permit for the extraction of a third of the gas produced in Ukraine” to his own company, Burisma.
According to the Ukrainian nonprofit Anti Corruption Action Center, Zlochevsky owns 38 permits held by 14 different companies—with Burisma accounting for the majority with 33 of the permits. Zlochevsky left Ukraine after Yanukovych fled to Russia during the Ukrainian Revolution known as Euromaidan.
Investigation Into Burisma
In the spring of 2014, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation at the behest of the UK prosecutors office, which was investigating money laundering allegations against Zlochevsky and had just frozen $23.5 million in assets allegedly belonging to him in early April 2014. Shokin, who wasn’t appointed as general prosecutor until February 2015, wasn’t yet involved in the case.
Ukrainian prosecutors refused to provide the UK with needed documents, and in January 2015, a British court ordered the assets unfrozen. This action was pointedly called out in a speech by Pyatt, who stated, “In the case of former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky, the UK authorities had seized $23 million in illicit assets that belonged to the Ukrainian people.”
Instead of receiving cooperation from Ukrainian prosecutors, they “sent letters to Zlochevsky’s attorneys attesting that there was no case against him. As a result, the money was freed by the UK court, and shortly thereafter the money was moved to Cyprus.”
On Feb. 10, 2015, Shokin was appointed prosecutor general of Ukraine, and he picked up the investigation into Burisma, which reportedly continued until his formal resignation in February 2016.
Around the same time that Zlochevsky’s assets were being frozen in the UK, Burisma appointed Hunter Biden to its board on April 18, 2014. Hunter’s compensation had never been disclosed by Burisma, which is a private company, but Ryan Toohey, a Burisma spokesman, told The New York Times that Biden’s compensation was “not out of the ordinary” for similar board positions.
However, according to The Hill’s reporting, Hunter Biden’s firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners, was receiving regular payments—“usually more than $166,000 a month”—from Burisma. The payments ran from the spring of 2014 through the fall of 2015 and reportedly totaled more than $3 million.
The Hill article included a written answer from Shokin, who told Solomon that his investigation into Burisma had included plans for “interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
According to Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, following Shokin’s forced dismissal, the Burisma investigation was transferred to Sytnyk’s NABU, which then reportedly closed the investigation sometime in 2016.
The Kyiv Post on March 27 published an editorial written by three members of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv that disputed Lutsenko’s interview with The Hill. They claim that two cases relating to Burisma are still being investigated by NABU:
“Two cases regarding the extraction of licenses by Zlochevsky’s companies and embezzlement of public funds at the ministry’s procurements during Zlochevsky’s Ministerial tenure remain active and are investigated by NABU.”
They also claim that “none of the criminal proceedings against Burisma were closed by NABU.” They acknowledged that the case concerning illegal issuance of licenses to extract natural resources were transferred to NABU in December 2015, but claim that SAP missed procedural deadlines for a lawsuit on canceling those licenses.
The politics within Ukraine are extremely complicated, and corruption is endemic, often leading to conflicting accounts of events.
US Pressure to Investigate Manafort
In January 2016, top Ukrainian corruption prosecutors and officials from Obama’s National Security Council (NSC), FBI, State Department and Department of Justice (DOJ) met in Washington, according to an April 26 article by The Hill.
The meeting, which was reportedly billed as “training,” apparently also touched on two other matters—the revival of a closed investigation into payments to U.S. figures from Ukraine’s Russia-backed Party of Regions and the closure of an ongoing Ukrainian investigation into Burisma.
According to The Hill’s reporting, the Ukrainian Embassy confirmed that meetings were held, but said it “had no record that the Party of Regions or Burisma cases came up in the meetings.”
A Jan. 22, 2016, NABU press release confirmed that NABU Director Artem Sytnyk was in Washington from Jan. 19 to 21.
At the same time as the NABU meeting with Obama officials, Vice President Biden also met with senior Ukrainian officials. On Jan. 21, 2016, Biden met with Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine. According to the White House release, the two leaders agreed “to continue to move forward on Ukraine’s anti-corruption agenda.”
Just six days earlier, on Jan 15, 2016, Biden had met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, promising to commit $220 million in new assistance to Ukraine that year.
Notably, several months later, Sytnyk and Ukrainian Member of Parliament Serhiy Leshchenko would publicly disclose the contents of the Ukrainian “black ledger” to the media, which implicated Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The revelation would force Manafort from the campaign.
Leshchenko also served as a source for various individuals, including journalist Michael Isikoff and Democratic National Committee (DNC) operative Alexandra Chalupa. In addition, Leshchenko served as a direct source of information for Fusion GPS—and its researcher, former CIA contractor Nellie Ohr.
Another Ukrainian-related meeting also took place in January 2016 when Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American, informed an unknown senior DNC official that she believed there was a Russian connection with the Trump campaign. Notably, this theme would be picked up by the Clinton campaign in the summer of 2016. Chalupa also told the official to expect Manafort’s involvement in the Trump campaign.
How Chalupa knew to expect Manafort’s involvement with the Trump campaign in January remains unknown, but her forecast proved prescient, as Manafort reached out to the Trump campaign shortly after, on Feb. 29, 2016, through a mutual acquaintance, Thomas J. Barrack Jr. According to Manafort, he and Trump hadn’t been in communication for years until the Trump campaign responded to Manafort’s offer.
As The Epoch Times previously reported, on May 30, 2016, Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr sent an email to her husband, high-ranking DOJ official Bruce Ohr, and three other DOJ officials to alert them of the discovery of the “Reported Trove of Documents on Ukrainian Party of Regions’ ‘Black Cashbox.’” It was this discovery that led to Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign in August 2016.
On Aug. 14, 2016, The New York Times published an article alleging that payments to Manafort had been uncovered from the Party of Regents’ “black box”—the 400-page handwritten ledger released by Leshchenko. The article proved to be a fatal blow for Manafort, who resigned from the Trump campaign just days later.
NABU Ties to FBI
Following the successful overthrow of Yanukovych, Joe Biden had a direct hand in the formation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), as he personally “pushed for the creation of an independent anti-corruption bureau to combat graft,” according to an Oct. 30, 2016, article by Foreign Policy.
NABU was formally established in October 2014 in response to pressure from not only the U.S. State Department and Biden, but also by the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.
Despite the international push, the fledgling anti-corruption unit took more than a year to actually become a functioning unit. During this time, NABU officials began establishing a relationship with the FBI. In early 2016, NABU Director Sytnyk announced that his bureau was very close to signing a memorandum of cooperation with the FBI and by February 2016, the FBI had had a permanent representative onsite at the NABU offices.
On June 5, 2016, Sytnyk met with U.S. Ambassador Pyatt to discuss a more formalized relationship with the FBI and, on June 30, 2016, NABU and the FBI entered into a memorandum of understanding that allowed for an FBI office onsite at NABU offices to focus on international money laundering cases. The relationship was renewed for an additional two years in June 2017.
NABU has repeatedly refused to make the memorandum of understanding with the FBI public and went to court in 2018 to prevent its release. After receiving an unfavorable opinion from the Kyiv District Administrative Court, NABU appealed the ruling, which was overturned in its favor by the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal.
Sytnyk, along with parliamentarian Leshchenko, became the subject of an investigation in Ukraine and in December 2018, a Kyiv court ruled that both men “acted illegally when they revealed that Manafort’s surname and signature were found in the so-called black ledger of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions,” the Kyiv Post reported on Dec. 12, 2018.
The court noted the material was part of a pre-trial investigation and its release “led to interference in the electoral processes of the United States in 2016 and harmed the interests of Ukraine as a state.”
Leshchenko had publicly adopted a strong anti-Trump stance, telling the Financial Times in August 2016 that “a Trump presidency would change the pro-Ukrainian agenda in American foreign policy” and that it was “important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.” Leschenko noted that the majority of Ukrainian politicians were “on Hillary Clinton’s side.”
In December 2017, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Lutsenko accused Sytnyk of allowing the FBI to conduct illegal operations in Ukraine, claiming that the “U.S. law enforcers were allegedly invited without the permission required and in breach of the necessary procedures.” Lutsenko continued by asking, “Who actually let the foreign special service act in Ukraine?”
Taras Chornovil, a Ukrainian political analyst, also questioned the FBI’s activities, writing that “some kind of undercover operations are being conducted in Ukraine with direct participation (or even under control) of the FBI. This means the FBI operatives could have access to classified data or confidential information.”
Lutsenko called for an audit of NABU, claiming to “possess information of interest to the auditors” and was pushing for Sytnyk’s resignation, along with that of Nazar Kholodnitskiy, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP). According to reporting by Euromaidan Press, Lutsenko’s efforts failed “thanks to the reaction from Ukraine’s American partners.”
Michael Carpenter, an adviser to Joe Biden, personally issued a public warning to Lutsenko and others pushing for Sytnyk’s removal, stating, “If the Rada votes to dismiss the head of the Anticorruption Committee and the head of the NABU, I will recommend cutting all U.S. government assistance to #Ukraine, including security assistance.”
Sytnyk remains in his position as NABU’s director.
Pinchuk’s Ties to Leshchenko, Clintons
On April 11, 2019, Greg Craig, Obama’s former White House counsel and a partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, was indicted for lying about and concealing his work in Ukraine. Craig, who reportedly worked closely with Manafort, was paid more than $4 million to produce an “independent” report justifying Ukraine’s trial and conviction of the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Notably, Craig’s name was not included in the “Black Ledger” leak from Leshchenko and Sytnyk.
The indictment notes that “a wealthy private Ukrainian” was fully funding the report. In a recent YouTube video, Craig publicly stated that “it was Doug Schoen who brought this project to me, and he told me he was acting on behalf of Victor Pinchuk, who was a pro-western, Ukrainian businessman who helped to fund the project.”
“The Firm understood that its work was to be largely funded by Victor Pinchuk,” Skadden wrote in recent FARA filings.
Pinchuk put out a statement on Jan. 21, denying any financial involvement:
“Mr. Pinchuk was not the source of any funds used to pay fees of Skadden in producing their report into the trial and conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko. He was in no way responsible for those costs. Neither Mr. Pinchuk nor companies affiliated with him have ever been a client of Skadden. Mr. Pinchuk and his team had no role in the work done by Skadden, including in the preparation or dissemination of the Skadden report.”
Pinchuk is the founder of Interpipe, a steel pipe manufacturer. He owns Credit Dnipro Bank, several ferroalloy plants and a media empire. He is married to Elena Pinchuk, the daughter of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.
Pinchuk has been accused of profiting immensely from the purchase of state-owned assets at severely below-market prices through political favoritism.
Between April 4 and April 12, 2016, Ukrainian parliamentarian Olga Bielkova had four meetings, with Samuel Charap (International Institute for Strategic Studies), Liz Zentos (National Security Council), Michael Kimmage (State Department), and David Kramer (McCain Institute).
FARA documents filed by Schoen showed that he was paid $40,000 a month by Pinchuk (page 5)—in part to arrange these meetings.
Schoen attempted to arrange another 72 meetings with congressmen and media (page 10). It’s unknown how many of these meetings, if any, took place.
Schoen also helped Pinchuk establish ties with the Clinton Foundation. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 19, 2015, how Schoen connected Pinchuk with senior Clinton State Department staffers in order to pressure former Ukrainian President Yanukovych to release Tymoshenko–a political rival of Yanukovych–from jail. And the relationship between Pinchuk and the Clintons continued. According to the Kyiv Post:
“Clinton and her husband Bill, the 42nd U.S. president, have been paid speakers at the annual YES and other Pinchuk events. They describe themselves as friends of Pinchuk, who is known internationally as a businessman and philanthropist.”
Although exact numbers aren’t clear, reports filed by the Clinton Foundation indicate that as much as $25 million of Pinchuk’s donations went to the Clinton organization.
Pinchuk also has ties to Leshchenko, the Ukrainian MP who leaked the information on Manafort. Leshchenko had been a frequent speaker at the Ukrainian Breakfast, a traditional private event held at Davos, Switzerland, and hosted by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and has also been pictured with Pinchuk at multiple other events.