Rudy Giuliani’s Joe Biden bashing efforts are brewing again
KYIV – Andriy Telizhenko, eyes hidden by dark sunglasses, chatted between sips of iced tea and puffs of a fat Nicaraguan cigar on the terrace of a glitzy Kiev hotel in the July heat. A fan was blowing a cool mist in her direction.
As smoke billowed out of his mouth, so did conspiracy theories. He only paused briefly to greet some of the VIP guests who were walking around for espressos or champagne at lunchtime; their bodyguards watched pointedly from the neighboring tables.
Telizhenko, former Ukrainian diplomat and associate of cigar aficionado Rudy Giuliani, has never shied away from his obsession: Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
For three years, he worked to help President Donald Trump get re-elected by exposing what he perceives to be the corrupt actions of the Bidens in Ukraine. And he said he wasn’t finished.
Telizhenko first appeared on the political scene in 2017, when he was interviewed for a now infamous Politico article in which he alleged that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, an accusation that was demystified.
He has since become a pro-Trump right-wing media darling and is part of a motley group of Ukrainian agents working with Giuliani and hoping to help Congressional Republicans in the coming weeks uncover damaging details about the Biden family.
The agents have competing personal and political motivations, but share important similarities: problems in their past and ties to Russia.
The four are similar in another way as well. Despite their lack of success so far, they are still talking about a great game.
“We are going to expose corruption under the Obama-Biden administration in Ukraine,” Telizhenko said. “There is still a lot of new information to come.”
Ukrainian collaborators of Telizhenko, whose names surfaced during Trump’s impeachment saga, include a fugitive, a tainted former prosecutor, and the son of a KGB officer who was also trained in Russian espionage techniques.
Andriy Derkach was educated at a KGB academy in Moscow. He became a Ukrainian lawmaker and is remembered for voting for a set of Kremlin-style anti-protest laws that were passed during the country’s pro-democracy revolution in 2014.
Kostyantyn Kulyk is a former military prosecutor accused with but never convicted of corruption. He was accused of initiating politically motivated criminal proceedings against his opponents and admitted to having ties to a warlord in eastern Ukraine, accused of working for Russian intelligence services.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko is a gas industry magnate and former legislator of the now defunct pro-Russian Party of Regions. Accused of embezzlement in his country of origin, he is now on the run.
Collectively, said Onyshchenko, they make up “the Giuliani team”.
The group appeared to disappear after Trump’s impeachment and coronavirus and Black Lives Matter events seized the United States. But in in-person, video and text interviews this month, the Ukrainians told BuzzFeed News they have been working behind the scenes for months and are now ready to return with a vengeance.
To date, three collections of recordings have been made available to the public by Derkach to few participants press conferences in the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. They claim to capture telephone conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko while the two were in office.
Poroshenko’s office has called the bogus records, and Biden’s campaign denounced what it calls a coordinated effort to smear the Democratic candidate. A campaign spokesperson tweeted to Donald Trump Jr. that the contents of a recording amounted to a “nothing burger. “
And, so far, the tapes have done nothing to substantiate, let alone advance, accusations by Trump, Giuliani, and Republicans of Biden’s corruption in Ukraine.
Steadfast, Ukrainians hope to storm the American media before November and be taken seriously by Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has launched a investigating Biden’s interactions in Ukraine even as the Democrats denounced the movement as political.
Telizhenko and Onyshchenko said they had been asked for questioning as part of the Senate investigation and shared documents with Republican members of the committee. The two plan to travel to the United States soon, and Telizhenko was preparing to attend the Republican National Convention in Florida before it was canceled.
Their actions draw comparisons between Congressional Democrats and the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign’s efforts in 2016 to enlist Russian help in defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On Monday, Democratic Congressional leaders sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray requesting a “defensive counterintelligence briefing” for all members of Congress ahead of the August recess, as a sign of growing alert to the foreign electoral interference before November.
“We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a campaign of concerted foreign interference, which seeks to whitewash and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate and the November presidential election, “the letter said in a thinly veiled reference to the Senate Republicans Biden Inquiry led by Sen. Ron Johnson.
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates on Thursday accused Johnson of “facilitating a foreign influence operation to undermine our democracy.” Senator Johnson, his staff and pro-Kremlin Ukrainians have now all confirmed his scandalous engagement with foreign interests attacking US sovereignty. “
Spokesmen for Johnson and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley, who is assisting Johnson in the Biden investigation, have defended their investigation and the use of information from Telizhenko and other Ukrainians.
In a written response to questions, Senators told BuzzFeed News, “As with any investigation, you get answers by asking questions. Those who refrain from examining issues related to “disreputable persons” are unlikely to uncover wrongdoing or improve accountability. “
The four Ukrainian agents are certainly not very well known in their country of origin.
“They cannot be trusted because they are running their own agenda and using all kinds of lies and manipulation for it,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, told BuzzFeed News at BuzzFeed News. from Ukraine.
Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of Ukraine World news site and director of analysis at Internews Ukraine, a media-focused non-governmental organization, described the four men as “dubious personalities” and “certainly not idealists trying to unmask Corruption”.
The four Ukrainians take offense at these descriptions.
Derkach said he recognizes criticism as a common tactic. “If you cannot disprove truthful information, discredit its source or try to change [subject] to another problem, ”he said in a long text message exchange.
Ukrainians tend to be discreet about the information they have and their plans to publish it.
“Let this be an intrigue,” Kulyk said cryptically in a text message conversation.
But Onyshchenko, who spoke to BuzzFeed News on a video call from Hamburg, Germany, where he was enjoying a continental breakfast at a hotel, said three more recording releases would arrive later this summer and in September, “closer to the elections”. He said Derkach would present them again at press conferences.
Derkach said that what he had published so far was “in reality only a small part of the vast volume of documents” and that it had all been “transferred to Ukrainian and American law enforcement”.
BuzzFeed News has been unable to verify the authenticity of the recordings released so far, which appear to have been edited.
The question of their authenticity is legitimate, critics say, as Derkach’s track record raises questions as to who he works for.
“I am convinced that Derkach’s operations in Ukraine are orchestrated by Russia,” Kaleniuk said, citing Derkach’s biography as well as his actions and comments on parallel Russian propaganda.
She also highlighted Derkach’s regular appearances on TV channels in Ukraine. would have controlled by Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of a pro-Russian faction in parliament and personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he is on vacation on the Crimean coast. Canals, 112 and NewsOne, are the main promoters of the “revelations” of Derkach Biden.
Derkach, who met Giuliani during the former New York mayor’s visit to Kiev
in December and again in the US in February to record a podcast, denied working for Russia and said the purpose of his activity was to “pursue the interests of Ukraine” and “to expose international corruption “.
Derkach said Kulyk, who joined him at press conferences promoting the material, lends legitimacy to his campaign against Biden because, in his former role as prosecutor, he attacked corrupt politicians. Kulyk said he was working with Derkach because “he, like me, reveals the nuances of an international corruption group” and wants to fight “against evil in all its manifestations”.
The nuances, however, actually work in Biden’s favor. Most of what Biden says in the tapes reflects what he has previously said publicly, including that he threatened to deny crucial loan guarantees to Ukraine unless Poroshenko fires his close ally and then attorney general. Viktor Shokin.
Shokin was widely regarded in Kiev and by international observers as an obstacle to democratic reforms. Its withdrawal was in line with long-standing US policy towards Ukraine, as well as that of EU allies.
Derkach and Kulyk also alleged that the Bidens obtained $ 44 million from an alleged $ 50 million bribe intended for Ukrainian authorities to shut down an investigation into Burisma, energy firm Hunter Biden said. work. But no evidence to support the charge has come to light.
Additionally, two former Ukrainian attorneys general – including Yuriy Lutsenko, who rubbed shoulders with Giuliani as he chased dirt on the Bidens last year and was a central figure in Trump’s impeachment saga – said they never found any evidence of wrongdoing on parts of the Bidens in Ukraine while investigating and reviewing cases related to Burisma.
“It’s basically a mountain of lies and innuendo disguised as due diligence,” Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert focusing on Russia and Ukraine, told BuzzFeed of the accusations drawn from the tapes. She is the author of the book How to lose the information war: Russia, fake news and the future of conflicts.
But there is reason to believe that the recordings are at least partly authentic. The voices about them are very similar to those of Biden and Poroshenko, and the topics covered there correspond to actual events and White House statements from when the appeals were said to have been made.
Getting hold of such recordings between senior officials is no easy task, which is another reason some critics have raised the possibility of Russian involvement.
Derkach and Telizhenko said they secured the tapes separately from an “investigative reporter” they would not identify, saying the man did not want to release them himself for fear of being attacked by supporters of Biden. In addition to the tapes, Telizhenko said he obtained 96 pages of Ukrainian transcripts which he said were made by Poroshenko’s office. (Poroshenko’s office denied this.)
Derkach said he did not know how the recordings were made, but Telizhenko claimed the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) was behind them.
The SBU has a reputation for being good at wiretapping and expanding its powers. The agency is also known to be sensitive at infiltration by its Russian counterpart, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, due to their common heritage as former Soviet Union KGB offices – further raising the possibility of Russian participation in the recordings.
There has been at least some concern about the source of the tapes from Republicans. In March, as Johnson began to escalate his Senate investigation, he abruptly canceled a vote to appear to obtain information from Telizhenko after federal officials shared concerns that Telizhenko could spread Russian disinformation, the report said. New York Times.
While Johnson has not changed his mind, Politico has signaled that he is considering a subpoena for a company that previously employed Telizhenko and worked for Burisma.
On the Democratic side, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has suggested Republicans could help guide Ukrainians in their search for the tapes.
In comments to BuzzFeed News, he said his Republican counterparts had requested transcripts of calls between Biden and Ukrainian State Department officials. But before receiving any, he said: “Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian official and star witness for Republicans, and other foreign nationals then leaked these conversations.”
Wyden added: “I am deeply alarmed that their letter may have sent the signal that the leak of the contents of a secure call between Vice President Biden and the former President of Ukraine would be a welcome development.”
Giuliani, on the other hand, was not worried about the origin of the information, according to Telizhenko, who said the two “spoke on July 4” after Giuliani left the White House following a visit from vacation.
He said he warned Giuliani that getting closer to Derkach might not be a good idea because of his “pro-Russian associations”. But Telizhenko said Giuliani told him that getting the documents was more important than worrying about where they came from.
Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Telizhenko said he passed everything on to a “US government guy” in Washington. He said the government official, whom he would not identify, then delivered the tapes to One America News (OAN), a favorite network of President Trump.
OAN White House correspondent Chanel Rion, who accompanied Giuliani to Kiev last December and regularly posts photos on her Instagram account with Asset and the president family members, started broadcasting what she called a series of investigations into Biden which included recordings in three July reports.
Onyshchenko told BuzzFeed News he was also in possession of the tapes, some of which he said he received from a source who allegedly obtained them from the SBU as early as 2016.
He said he tried to give some of the tapes to Andrew Weissmann, a former US Department of Justice official and a senior member of Robert Mueller’s special advocates team, when the two met in Madrid in December 2016 Weissmann could not be reached for comment, but the FBI confirmed that in December 2016, his officials had met Onyshchenko but had subsequently cut off contact with him.
The purpose of the meeting, Onyshchenko said, was to give the DOJ information about corruption in the Biden and Poroshenko neighborhoods. But when the DOJ didn’t accept what he was offering, Onyshchenko said, he got angry.
On one of the tapes that Derkach shared with the public, which Onyshchenko said he also has, Poroshenko is heard telling Biden that Onyshchenko has a Russian passport and is working in the interests of Russia to destabilize Ukraine. . Biden can be heard assuring Poroshenko that the FBI is not working with Onyshchenko.
It was enough, Onyshchenko said, to motivate him to join forces with Telizhenko, Derkach and Kulyk to get back to Biden and Poroshenko. In an attempt to do so, he contacted Giuliani by phone in early December, he said.
“When I told Giuliani about these tapes he was very excited,” Onyshchenko said, adding that Giuliani later told him he would call Trump and tell him he had “something very important.”
Onyshchenko said he was supposed to hand the tapes to Giuliani when he arrived in Washington late last year, but German authorities arrested him three days before his scheduled flight.
Onyshchenko has been on the run from Ukrainian law enforcement since 2016. Kiev authorities accuse him of fraud and money laundering; he denies the charges. German authorities briefly arrested him in December at Ukraine’s request, but a court rejected his extradition in May.
A free man once again, Onyshchenko is able to return to a lavish lifestyle that includes horseback riding and mingling with celebrities, documenting everything on Instagram. He spends much of his time coordinating with Ukrainians how and when to release Biden-Poroshenko’s recordings.
Onyshchenko said he was also invited by Johnson and his fellow Republicans for questioning as part of their Senate investigation. Spokesmen for Johnson and Grassley declined to comment on people who may be in contact and share documents with committee investigators.
Invited or not, Onyshchenko plans to travel to the United States this summer to meet with Republicans, right-wing media and anyone else who might be interested in helping the Ukrainian crew. Derkach won’t join him, however, as he claims his US visa has been revoked, a move he attributed to his criticism of Biden. Kulyk also plans to stay in Ukraine.
Telizhenko said he was also invited by Johnson’s office to be interviewed for the Republicans’ inquiry, but never received a follow-up to confirm anything. He took a short trip to Washington last week but said he hadn’t met any politicians.
His first stop? Trump International Hotel. He took a selfie at the lobby bar and a photo of an expensive bottle of whiskey he ordered to celebrate Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence.