Congressman Duped Into Holding Sham Hearing for Ukrainian TV

A Kansas Republican's office booked a room in the basement of the Capitol that was used for a fake congressional hearing put on by a shadowy Ukrainian lobbying group.


Scott Audette/Reuters

A former U.S. lawmaker appears to have duped a freshman congressman's office into organizing a sham “hearing” that aired on Ukrainian television on behalf of a shadowy lobbying client implicated in the Panama Papers leak, The Daily Beast has learned.

Former Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) reached out to the office of Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS)—a freshman lawmaker who won the special election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo—to reserve a room in the basement of the Capitol for an event on the Ukrainian banking sector.

As The Weekly Standard documents, the fake “hearing” was broadcast in full on Ukraine’s NewsOne and described to viewers as the “U.S. Congressional Committee on Financial Issues.” But not a single member of Congress attended. The network teased the “shocking details” about the “highest levels of corruption in the NBU,” referring to the National Bank of Ukraine.

Panelists at the event included Sergiy Taruta, a former politician in Ukraine, Oleksandr Zavadetskyi, a former NBU employee, and James Woolsey, the former CIA director under President Bill Clinton who also served as an adviser to President Trump’s campaign. A pamphlet handed out to attendees was evaluated by a Ukrainian fact-checking website as having “mostly correct” data about the NBU but “manipulated in almost all occasions.”

Estes’ office told The Daily Beast that the congressman had nothing to do with the event, and that they reserved the room “as a courtesy” for Mack, who is now a registered lobbyist at Liberty International Group, “to host an event on allegations of corruption in Ukraine.”

An Estes spokesman added that the office policy for booking rooms has been updated to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. The spokesman also said that from now on, whenever his office reserves rooms in the Capitol for events, Estes will be in attendance.

Mack is a registered lobbyist on behalf of a firm called Interconnection Commerce, which according to Mack’s lobbying disclosure is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands and is focused on “shining a light on corruption in Ukraine.” Aside from a mention in the Panama Papers, the firm’s online footprint is nonexistent.

“I represent a group that is interested in highlighting corruption, not just in Ukraine, but all over: from Central to South America, to Eastern Europe,” Mack told the Weekly Standard reporter who attended the event.

During the event, Mack implied he is still a member of Congress—which likely bolstered NewsOne’s characterization of the event as a congressional hearing.

“One thing is clear: that we, the Congress of the United States—and there are taxpayer dollars at risk, and there are allegations, suggestions, and evidence—should investigate” the corruption allegations, Mack said at the conclusion of the event, according to an audio recording obtained by The Daily Beast.

Mack did not respond to requests for comment.

As The Daily Beast previously reported, he is also registered to lobby on behalf of Hungary’s Putin-allied ruling party, and the former congressman has played up praise for Trump by the country’s right-wing prime minister as a means of getting him in the president’s good graces.