With the logo of the Russian Interfax news agency in the background, Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach opened his third news conference in three months by telling reporters, in Russian, that he had evidence that could bring down two of President Donald Trump’s biggest political rivals: 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Derkach, a former member of a pro-Russia party in Ukraine who is known for propagating conspiracy theories, rattled off a dizzying slew of allegations ranging from how Americans helped the state-run gas company Naftogaz steal billions of dollars from Kyiv to how a Ukrainian oligarch who donated to the Clinton Foundation is actually a Russian spy. For the most part only Russian state media companies covered the press conference. Derkach did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
The office of the Ukrainian parliamentarian had advertised the presser for days, hyping it to reporters locally as a conference to watch. Derkach, they said, would present never-before-seen documents and put forward brand new facts that would underscore just how unfair and corrupt former U.S. and Ukrainian officials really were. But the entire event was smoke and mirrors complete with dozens of figures, graphs, and charts—a thinly veiled attempt to persuade those unfamiliar with the gas trading and international investment banking worlds that there was a there there.
For example, Derkach said Ukraine was paying higher prices for gas from Europe than other countries and that the money from those sales went into the pockets of Ukrainian companies controlled by Americans. But Derkach’s numbers represented the sale of gas and did not include fees associated with transport and other logistical costs.
Derkach conflated and manipulated his numbers in an attempt to create a story. And along the way, he happened to implicate not only foes of Trump but also some of the leading American energy executives pushing Ukraine to find alternative sources of energy beyond Russia. (Kyiv and Moscow have for years been ensnared in a natural gas trade battle.)
Derkach’s allegations, though filled with flagrantly inaccurate information, have made the rounds in some of the highest tiers of the U.S. government and are being held up by Trumpworld figures including Rudy Giuliani, according to two U.S. officials and another Westerner familiar with the matter. According to another person with direct knowledge of the situation, Giuliani is in the midst of drafting a counter-report meant to discredit former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. At least some of that report will include information provided by Derkach, another individual familiar with the situation said.
Derkach, a self-described political independent, attended the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB in Moscow and was for a time a member of the pro-Russia party—the Party of Regions—in the Ukrainian parliament. He also served in the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, in Dnepropetrovsk; his father headed the organization in the late ’90s and early ’80s. He is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and traveled to Moscow as a delegate during the election of Patriarch Kirill as head of the church in January 2009.
Derkach and Giuliani met in Kyiv last week, and the Ukrainian parliamentarian provided Trump’s personal lawyer with a series of documents highlighting his allegations, including his favorite: Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election, not Russia. The Daily Beast obtained a 50-page dossier disseminated by Derkach focusing on the 2016 allegation.
“Officials of the embassy of Ukraine in the United States [were] involved the distortion of the public image of the US presidential candidate D. Trump by disseminating inaccurate information as well as manipulating the consciousness of the citizens of Ukraine and citizens of the United States against him and his people,” one of the documents reads.
Derkach has disseminated documents about Ukrainian collusion for years but recently began to recirculate his claims among current and former U.S. officials and interested Americans, including individuals close to Trump. And GOP lawmakers have mimicked some of the document’s claims as recently as this month in the midst of the House impeachment investigation.
When passing on the documents Derkach told individuals that he thought top administration officials, including those at the Department of Justice, would be interested in his findings, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of those conversations. During the time period, John Solomon, a former reporter for The Hill named in the House impeachment inquiry as having communication with Ukrainian officials, published a story echoing Derkach’s claims that Ukrainian law enforcement officials had gathered information about interference in the U.S. election and tried to pass it on to the Department of Justice.
The Daily Beast obtained a series of Derkach’s documents in a 50-page dossier that accuses Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, or NABU, of being the key institution behind what it describes as Ukranian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
NABU, one dossier document claims, is “under the control of certain persons from the US Embassy and US State Department.” One such person it claims is pulling the commission’s strings is George Kent—the memorably bow-tied diplomat from the impeachment hearings—who the document alleges was “present near the courthouse” during a corruption case “providing orders to organize and accompany a positive decision for NABU.”
NABU’s primary sin, according to Derkach, was helping publish in the summer of 2016 the so-called black ledger detailing the Party of Regions’ secret payouts to then-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and others. Manafort was ousted from his position shortly thereafter and is currently serving 7 1/2 years in prison for an array of federal crimes.
Derkach claims the black ledger’s documentations of Manafort payouts are “false,” without specifying how. But NABU’s primary transgressions were ones of timing and framing, according to the dossier, which presents it as a calumny for NABU to have “deliberately referred” to Manafort “as a corruptor.”
“NABU formally activated and confirmed the fact of carrying out an investigation concerning Mr. Manafort and did everything possible to massively distort information in order to develop an additional black PR-company in foreign media, including the United States,” the dossier alleges.
NABU had “the intention of damaging the image of Donald Trump’s [sic] and the Republican party of the United States,” one of the documents claims.
Manafort and the black ledger have consistently appeared in Republican defenses of Trump. One America News, which traveled with Giuliani to meet Derkach and other former prosecutors of Ukraine, dedicated almost an entire segment to the black ledger, inviting Ukrainians on set to discredit it.
In another document obtained by The Daily Beast, Derkach claims that Trump cut military aid to Ukraine over the years because of the country’s intervention in the election. In referencing the aid, Derkach said the amount of money could be “reduced if the scandal with ‘Ukrainian sabotage’ gains new momentum.”
“It seems that this number [U.S. aid] will follow along with Kiev’s search for those responsible… with the deterioration or improvement of bilateral relations,” the document says. Trump notoriously held up Ukraine military aid this summer, and several House impeachment witnesses have said top Trump administration officials were pushing Kyiv to open investigations into the Bidens and 2016 election interference.
Derkach’s news conference Tuesday was just one in a series of events where the Ukrainian and his colleague in parliament Oleksandr Dubinsky have attempted to propagate debunked conspiracy theories related to Washington, Trump, and his political rivals. (Back in October, Derkach claimed, without evidence, that Ukraine had paid Hunter Biden $900,000 for lobbying services.) The two have been posting videos for weeks on their individual social media accounts outlining their claims.
So far, though, their allegations have garnered the attention of very few news outlets in Ukraine and even fewer in the U.S. (“These two both are professional disinformers,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Anders Aslund told NBC News. “This is generally known in Ukraine… They are not credible.”) But their allegations seem to be growing more fantastical as the weeks pass by.
Earlier this month, Dubinsky posted a video to Facebook, which Derkach reposted, that attempted to outline how Americans, with the help of a major international firm, stole billions of dollars from the Ukrainian budget to enrich themselves.
In the video, Dubinsky stood in front of the camera, marker in hand, outlining on a white board with arrows how former officials in Ukraine took money out of the federal budget and along with Franklin Templeton, a global investment firm, came up with an elaborate scheme to launder money and pocket cash. But that’s not what happened.
Franklin Templeton held about half of Ukraine’s international bonds and was the country’s biggest private creditor. One of the firm’s spokespersons told The Daily Beast that the amount invested in Ukrainian debt by certain Franklin Templeton funds was $7.4 billion over a period of time. But the Ukrainian government’s finances deteriorated in 2014 and Franklin Templeton sold its holdings.
An aide to former general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who propagated the Franklin Templeton theory, told The New Yorker’s Adam Entous that the allegations “were a fiction” spread by Kostiantyn Kulyk, the former Ukrainian prosecutor behind the dossier that targeted Hunter Biden for his work with Burisma.
Still, both Dubinsky and Derkach are sticking with the discredited theory, as well as many others. And they’re passing them on to people with access to Trump eager to shape public opinion during impeachment.
—with additional reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Adam Rawnsley