KYIV, Ukraine—The witnesses stand, with their right hands raised, as if being sworn in for, well, an impeachment hearing. Only this is not in Congress. The cast of obscure Ukrainians—a group seen at home as odious and discredited—are appearing in a television show with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, in what he casts as an investigation that parallels the process in Congress.
It would only be credible in a parallel world.
Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat, has been helping Giuliani produce the show for OAN, the One America News Network, a conservative channel now favored by Trump. OAN is publicizing the two-part broadcast this weekend, promising “witnesses who destroy [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff’s baseless impeachment case against President Trump.”
“Watch top Ukrainian officials testify under oath the side of the story Schiff doesn’t want you to hear,” proclaims the YouTube promo for the broadcast.
But “top officials” they definitely are not. Indeed, Giuliani’s choice of guest stars in his would-be reality show, and his wider cast of sources, caused shock among many in Kyiv’s establishment who know their questionable backgrounds in considerable detail.
What Giuliani’s collaborators have in common is their willingness to testify in his parallel proceedings—or possibly the impeachment trial in the Senate, in the improbable event they are called—or contribute in other ways to Trump’s cause. Some of them have been doing so for years in Ukraine.
Their testimony won’t accommodate President Donald Trump’s “favor” requested during the infamous July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump and his representatives made it clear they wanted an announcement by Zelensky of a Biden investigation, and that has not happened. But will Giuliani's machinations help put pressure on Zelensky finally to come around? That remains an open question. Those working with Giuliani include a member of Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, who is in Zelensky’s party.
Trump asked Zelensky for two things: to investigate the Bidens and explore the debunked theory that Ukraine meddled significantly in the 2016 election. He asked Zelensky to find the “hidden DNC server” mentioned in Russian propaganda in order to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report indicting 12 members of Russian military intelligence, the GRU, for hacking the Democratic National Committee.
“The server, they say Ukraine has it," Trump told Zelensky. But Ukrainian independent corruption and hacking experts share doubts about Giuliani’s sources’ intentions and the so-called evidence against Joe Biden and his son. They also see no substantiation of Russia’s aggressively propagated conspiracy theory.
Trump also asked Zelensky to work with Giuliani.
These requests, coming at a time when vital military support for Ukraine was frozen and no date was set for a promised White House meeting—pending Zelensky’s cooperation—are what triggered impeachment proceedings against Trump for abuse of power. He is accused of using the authority of the United States government to further his own personal political agenda.
None of the requests has been fulfilled and there is a strong belief among Ukraine’s independent corruption fighters that President Zelensky is not going to take Trump’s side in the impeachment process. Last week, Zelensky studiously avoided Giuliani.
On the way to Kyiv, Giuliani met with Ukraine’s ex-prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, in Budapest, but so far as we can tell from the promotional video, Lutsenko does not appear on the panel in the OAN show.
In an interview with the BBC in September, Lutsenko said he was ready to testify in the impeachment hearings, that he was “not afraid of anything” other than Ukraine falling victim to the storm around the American scandal. But of course it is one thing to say you are not afraid to testify and a completely different thing to make statements under oath in front of Congress and thereby open yourself up to prosecution. (Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is now in prison for doing that.)
Lutsenko last September, facing nothing more than a BBC camera, sounded meek when pressed to say if he had evidence to back up the Republicans’ argument that Joe Biden supported the energy company, Burisma, that had appointed his son to its board. “It’s not my jurisdiction,” Lutsenko said. “I cannot do anything that is not connected with Ukrainian law.”
The most knowledgeable source of the multiple probes opened into Burisma Holding, but never completed, are two former prosecutors, Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn Kulyk.
Some of Trump’s obsession with the Biden issue can be traced to interviews that Giuliani conducted with Lutsenko and Shokin back in January with the help of Ukrainian businessmen Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, both of whom have since been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for illegal campaign contributions.
The memos of Giuliani's January interviews were delivered to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office in a manila envelope with the return address listed as “The White House.” They (and the envelope) are among about 100 pages obtained last month through the Freedom of Information Act by the watchdog organization American .
“Of all the people Giuliani met with in Kyiv, ex-prosecutor-general Shokin would most probably take the risk and testify at the upcoming hearing in the Senate,” Ukrainian politician Borislav Bereza told The Daily Beast. Shokin was removed from his position in 2016 partly as a result of pressure from the United States government, including Biden, who was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine. Extensive testimony in Congress by U.S. diplomats supports the conclusion that Shokin’s dismissal was the result of the prosecutor’s own alleged corruption.
The co-founder of Hromadske TV, Natalia Gumenyuk, sees another role for the former prosecutor in the reality-show hearings: his service to the Kremlin-connected billionaire Dmytro Firtash, who’s awaiting extradition from his villa in Vienna to the United States. “Shokin helps Firtash develop the conspiracy of Ukraine’s interference with the U.S. election in 2016, so once behind bars in the U.S. Firtash could claim he was a victim of political injustice.”
It seems that everybody in Giuliani’s Ukrainian camp has his own agenda. Take MPs Oleksandr Dubinsky, a member of the ruling Servant of the People party, and Andrii Derkach, who was educated at the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB intelligence service in Moscow.
According to his official biography, Derkach served as the head of the technical department in the Pervomayskaya Division of the Soviet Strategic Rocket forces in 1989. Derkach also served in the Security Service of Ukraine or SBU in Dnepropetrovsk, when his father, General Leonid Derkach, the future head of that service, was responsible for technical defense of information.
In January 2014, shortly before the Euromaidan “Revolution of Dignity” ousted pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych from Ukraine, Derkach as a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions voted for so-called “dictatorship laws” targeting social freedoms. A survivor of political storms, Derkach managed to make his way back to the Rada after the revolution and find a new target for criticism: he has been accusing Ukrainian politicians and diplomats of “illegal interference” in U.S. elections since 2017.
Derkach has collected information about the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, or NABU, hinting that its officials consulted with U.S. diplomats and the FBI about Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort’s corrupt practices and kickbacks when he worked for Yanukovych. This fall, Derkach showed what he called indications that NABU had passed some documents related to Burisma in an unlawful way to the U.S. embassy.
Both Derkach and Dubinsky clearly want to be heard by Giuliani and his client in the White House. They organized a press conference in early October after meeting with Giuliani, and Dubinsky described plans to create a commission at the Rada to investigate the plundering and laundering of billions of dollars from the Ukrainian budget during the presidencies of both Yanukovych and his post-Euromaidan successor, Petro Poroshenko.
“Dubinsky is the most scandalous and toxic member of Zelensky’s party, a former journalist with dubious wealth, nothing will stop him from getting involved in shadowy corrupt deals,” Gumenyuk told The Daily Beast. The Ukrainian media group Bihus.Info has published investigative reports into Dubinsky’s allegedly ill-gotten gains.
A source connected to the Presidential Administration told The Daily Beast that on Thursday President Zelensky’s aide and close friend Andrii Yermak met with Giuliani—and their conversation was discussed at the Presidential Administration on Friday morning. That was not the first time that Giuliani was pushing Yermak to conduct the Trump-desired investigations, as testimony before the impeachment hearings established previously. The Daily Beast asked Yermak to comment on his latest conversation with Trump’s lawyer, but did not receive any response.
Serhiy Leshchenko, a former member of the Rada, who Giuliani referred to as one of the U.S. president’s “enemies,” said he was “ready to testify” in the Senate if invited. “It is clear from public communication, that they [Giuliani’s partners in Ukraine] play into the Russian narrative to shift responsibility for interference in the U.S. election from the Kremlin to Ukraine.”
One more character in Giuliani’s TV team made many Ukrainians' jaws drop: former parliamentarian Andrii Artemenko. Ukraine stripped Artemenko of his citizenship in 2017 and officially expelled him from the State Rada for proposing to rent Crimea to Russia. (Moscow seized and annexed the strategic peninsula in 2014 and Ukraine wants it back.)
On Tuesday, an OAN press release showed that Artemenko will appear in the first episode of Giuliani’s series. Artemenko previously has told The Daily Beast that he played “the key role” in helping Trump’s investigations. “Artemenko was actually helping Giuliani a lot to organize all the meetings in Kyiv,” Bereza told The Daily Beast.
Independent observers here say they hope that Zelensky will not bend under pressure from Trump or his lawyer. “Giuliani and his company wanted Zelensky to interfere in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections,” said Ukraine’s leading corruption fighter, Daria Kaleniuk. “It didn’t work out well.”