Before catching the eye of German law enforcement, former Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleksandr Onyshchenko drew attention from the conservative TV channel One America News. Last week, German authorities arrested the multi-millionaire because of a warrant from Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutors. Before his arrest, though, the Trump-friendly media outlet tried to help him get a visa to travel to the U.S.
The effort, which has not been previously reported, was part of a push by OAN to unearth information on Burisma Holdings, the energy company that retained Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President and current Trump rival Joe Biden. Onyshchenko has claimed to have dirt on the firm. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, has boosted the channel’s Burisma work.
“I can confirm that One America News Network did attempt to secure a number of visas for former Ukrainian officials to travel to the United States, including Olekesandr Onyshchenko,” network president Charles Herring told The Daily Beast in an email. “One America News Network made the request prior to Mr. Onyschchenko being detained. One America News investigative efforts have cost in excess of $100,000 to date.”
Herring added that the outlet is also “currently seeking visas” for several other former Ukrainian officials, but is no longer doing so for Onyshchenko. Herring declined to say which other ex-officials his outlet is trying to secure visas for. Efforts by media outlets to secure legal travel authorizations for their sources are in an ethical gray area, according to one expert. Especially when the source in question is accused of embezzlement.
Onyshchenko’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutors allege Onyshchenko ran a scheme to steal millions from Kyiv’s state-owned natural gas company.
The news of OAN’s effort to help him get a visa comes on the heels of Rudy Giuliani’s trip to Kyiv, where Trump’s personal lawyer worked with a correspondent and crew member of OAN. On the trip, Giuliani and OAN’s Chanel Rion met with Viktor Shokin and Yuri Lutsenko, two former Ukrainian prosecutors who have alleged misconduct by the Bidens. Their claims—that Obama administration officials pressured the Ukrainain government to ignore wrongdoing by Burisma in a bid to protect the Bidens—are at the heart of Giuliani’s search for dirt. Giuliani has said he is working with OAN on this project, and the network’s segments back that up.
OAN’s coverage of the impeachment scandal has raised eyebrows. The channel sent a camera crew to the apartment building where they believe the whistleblower who kicked off the Ukraine scandal lives, and to the home of the suspected whistleblower’s parents. And Rion’s documentary series on the Bidens and Burisma has taken an odd tone. In a promotional segment for one program, she said the sources would “testify under oath” for the show. Giuliani figures prominently throughout the programming. And on Tuesday evening, Rion tweeted effusive praise of Giuliani’s communications director, Christianné Allen. “An incredibly talented patriot and a breath of fresh air here in the swamp. @Christianne_L_A — here’s to the adventures ahead,” Rion wrote, along with a picture of herself and Allen.
Onyshchenko told conservative media site CD Media that he applied for a U.S. visa earlier this year. It wasn’t his first overture to American officials; in 2016, Onyshchenko met with Justice Department officials to discuss corruption in Ukraine. People familiar with the events told The Daily Beast that Onyshchenko’s outreach appeared to be part of an effort to secure a U.S. visa.
In recent years, OAN has tried to outpace Fox News, Fox Business, and Sinclair as the most committed Trump ally in television. Beyond traveling with Giuliani on his latest European jaunt in hopes of scoring dirt on Trump’s political enemies, the network has run countless hours of explicitly pro-MAGA programming and has even taken the step of naming the alleged whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry—a step that Fox brass have repeatedly instructed their own staff not to take.
And Trump has noticed. The president has tweeted praise of OAN’s coverage while chastising Fox News for being insufficiently supportive of him. He also privately recommends the network to total strangers at Mar-a-Lago.
The network’s efforts on Onyshchenko’s behalf raise ethical questions, according to journalism professor Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University.
“This sounds like it’s in kind of a gray area,” he told The Daily Beast.“If they’re just helping them come over to the U.S. for a short period of time to be interviewed and participate in a story, maybe that doesn’t bother me that much. But if this is some sort of long-term arrangement where the Ukrainians would be able to stay in the U.S. a long time, this is something they’ve been wanting to do, and OAN is making it happen for them, that would probably be going too far.”
“I’m not really comfortable with any of this,” he added, “but as long as it’s for some short-term purpose—namely, for participating in a story—I’m not going to get all outraged about it, either.”
Giuliani’s Ukraine project is central to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry targeting Trump. In a July phone call, Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help Giuliani with the effort. Meanwhile, the administration held up military aid and refused to schedule a White House visit for Zelensky. Giuliani communicated to Ukrainian officials that Zelensky needed to announce investigations Burisma and of alleged Ukrainian interference in the U.S. 2016 election if he wanted to visit the White House, according to European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Zelensky didn’t announce the probes, and the White House has yet to set a date for his visit.