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27 April, 2019

Trump drags Ukraine into his conspiracy allegations

U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled he is keen on pursuing allegations that Ukraine tried to hamper his presidential bid in 2016

Speaking on his favorite Fox News Channel, which provides uncritical, partisan support for Trump, the president said “big” and “incredible” new allegations have emerged that Ukraine tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election in favor of his rival, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. 

America has been an invaluable ally to Ukraine on the international stage since Russia invaded in 2014, providing much financial and military support.  But while the U.S. Congress, State, Defense and other government departments have worked closely with Kyiv, relations between Ukrainian authorities and the Trump White House have been cool.

Trump’s words could throw a pall on relations with Ukraine’s president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, before the country’s new leader even takes office.

Ukrainians became wary of Trump during the election campaign because he often praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and seemed to suggest that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea was justified. 

Trump was forced to fire his campaign manager Paul Manafort when it merged, in the summer of 2016, that he had worked for many years in a key role for Ukraine’s ousted Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. 

Prominent Ukrainian journalist and member of parliament, Sergii Leshchenko, made public that Manafort had received millions of dollars in payments from the Yanukovych camp, which the American political operative stashed in offshore accounts and failed to declare to U.S. tax authorities.

Trump and some of his supporters called the revelations about Manafort a conspiracy by Ukrainian authorities to influence the election. They have sought to portray equivalency between Russia’s widespread and well-documented by U.S. intelligence agencies interference in the election with the Ukrainian information shedding light on Manafort’s connections to pro-Kremlin politicians and oligarchs.

A two-year investigation by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign ended last month without enough evidence to indict anyone of criminal actions with Moscow.  

However, the 448-page report detailed much murky behavior, lying and plentiful contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates which have laid the ground for months more of investigations by Congressional committees and that in turn has triggered presidential fury with demands that those who initiated the investigation and provided information from Ukraine, should themselves be investigated.

Trump’s opponents say talk of a “Ukrainian conspiracy” is designed to deflect attention from the damning Mueller report.

Lutsenko fuels Trump’s ‘Ukrainian conspiracy’ case

The contentions by the Trump side that Ukrainian officials played an improper part in 2016  have been strengthened by statements from Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko that his office has opened investigations into such allegations. He and Barr apparently met in in the U.S. in February.

Speaking on Fox News on April 25, Trump said he wants the American public to be aware of the Ukrainian Prosecutor Generals’ office investigation. He said that U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr would decide on how to handle any probe into “Clinton-Ukraine” connections.

He said: “I would imagine (Barr} would want to see this..…. I would certainly defer to the attorney general, and we’ll see what he says about it. It sounds like big stuff, very interesting with Ukraine. I just spoke with the new president| a while ago, and congratulated him. … But that (Ukrainian revelations) sounds like big, big stuff, and I’m not surprised.”

The previous day Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tweeted: “Keep your eye on Ukraine.”

As described in a Kyiv Post article last week, some of the allegations of “Ukrainian interference” home in on Ukrainian-American Alexandra Chalupa’s work with the Democratic Party’s national body. 

She publicized Manafort’s unsavory background, which made him a prime focus of the Mueller investigation and earned him a seven and a half year prison sentence for financial crimes. Neither did she hide that she had open contacts with Kyiv’s embassy in Washington as part of her role as Ukrainian expert for the Democratic Party committee reaching out to the many ethnic groups that compose American society.

Trump allies wove those facts into a “Ukrainian conspiracy” theory which has resurfaced with a vengeance since the publication of Mueller’s report. Chalupa has been the target of hostile statements and tweets by Trump supporters and is mentioned in a pro-Trump book called “Spygate.”

It is unclear why Lutsenko and other Ukrainian law enforcement officials became so enthusiastic, shortly before Ukraine’s own recent presidential elections, about investigating possible illegal Ukrainian interference into America’s 2016 election.

Any “illegal interference” implicitly points the finger at some connected to the administration of the president at that time, Petro Poroshenko, who last weekend lost his bid for another term. 

Poroshenko appointed, against much opposition, his close ally Lutsenko, as Ukraine’s top lawyer. Some believe Lutsenko launched the investigation as part of a misconceived attempt to repair relations with Trump and curry his support ahead of the Ukrainian elections for Poroshenko.

The announcement by former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that he will seek to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate against Trump in 2020 elections offers more opportunities for Ukraine to be sucked into what promises to be America’s next nasty electoral saga.

There have been allegations in the past that Biden’s son, Hunter, gained improper financial benefit while serving on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, a job he got while his father was vice president and heading then U.S. President Barack Obama’s relations with Kyiv.

Kyiv Post

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