The former Ukrainian diplomat at the center of allegations that Kyiv meddled in the 2016 election has met Rep. Devin Nunes, the California firebrand who is one of President Trump’s top defenders.
The revelation indicates that Andrii Telizhenko’s connections in Washington are wider than previously known. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, has enthusiastically promoted Telizhenko’s allegations and met with him extensively. And Trump has touted his claims.
“Congressman Nunes had a really interesting and good impact on me as a very positive and influential politician who loves America and is interested in Ukraine and developments on fighting Russia,” Telizhenko told The Daily Beast. “We talked about how to fight Russian aggression in Ukraine and Russian propaganda.”
The previously unreported conversation is the only known encounter between two of the more significant figures in the story of Trump’s relationships with Russia and Ukraine. Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Telizhenko worked at Kyiv’s embassy in Washington from December 2015 through June 2016, according to a copy of his C.V. that he shared with The Daily Beast. And he has played a key role in the promotion of the contentious narrative, popular on the political right, that the Ukrainian government worked with Democrats during the 2016 campaign to damage Trump.
Politico first reported in January 2017 on alleged efforts by Ukraine’s Washington embassy to find and dole out dirt about Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months and is now serving a prison sentence for financial crimes unrelated to the 2016 election.
In Politico’s story, former DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa and then-deputy chief of mission Oksana Shulyar both denied any inappropriate moves related to Manafort. Telizhenko, however, went on the record to say Shulyar directed him to share any relevant information with Chalupa. “They were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa,” he said at the time.
The allegation reverberated through conservative media. And while most coverage of election interference in early 2017 focused on the Kremlin’s well-funded operation to hack emails and spread disinformation over Facebook and Twitter, Telizhenko’s allegations about Ukraine found an eager audience among the president’s staunch supporters. A BuzzFeed story published earlier this week tracked Telizhenko’s reach through conservative media—including an appearance on the conspiracy site InfoWars—and called him “a bespoke purveyor of conspiracy theories.”
Since going public, Telizhenko has helped Giuliani try to investigate matters related to American politics and Ukraine. Telizhenko told NBC earlier this week that the two met earlier this year and have become friends. His allegations have also drawn the attention of congressional Republicans defending Trump in the impeachment inquiry; a newly released transcript shows a Republican staffer who questioned former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as part of the inquiry asked her if she was familiar with the story.
The staffer also said the issue could damage the relationship between the two countries.
“I think most Americans believe that there shouldn’t be meddling in our elections,” she said. “And if Ukraine is the one that had been meddling in our elections, I think that the support that all of you have provided to Ukraine over the last almost 30 years, I don’t know that—I think people would ask themselves questions about that.”
Telizhenko met Nunes at a housewarming party in May of this year, he told The Daily Beast. The two chatted for about 15 minutes, he said, and didn’t follow up after the party.
“We had an interesting conversation,” he said. “He’s well aware on Ukraine politics and from what I understood, he’s a true patriot in the United States. And that’s how I saw it. It was interesting for me to meet him.”
Since their conversation, Nunes has touted claims that originated with Telizhenko. On Sept. 24, he tweeted out an article by John Solomon at The Hill arguing that Democrats have pressured Ukraine to meddle in American politics. The story quoted Telizhenko. A few weeks later, the congressman tweeted out another story highlighting claims that the Ukrainian embassy colluded with the DNC.