by Robert Romano
Former Vice President Joe Biden was not the only U.S. official getting prosecutors fired in Ukraine.
Now-recalled U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch to Ukraine — removed from her post in May — attempted to have anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytskyi fired in March.
In a March 5 speech to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Yovanovitch said, “To ensure the integrity of anticorruption institutions, the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor must be replaced,” accusing Kholodnytskyi of being “recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges” and that he could no longer “be trusted to prosecute those very same cases.”
“Those responsible for corruption should be investigated, prosecuted, and if guilty, go to jail. And in order for that to happen, all of the elements of the anti-corruption architecture must be in place and must be working effectively,” Yovanovitch declared.
On March 20, perhaps in response, then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in a recorded interview with The Hill’s John Solomon told him that rooting out corruption in Ukraine was difficult because, in his words, “Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute.”
In Ukraine, this was a massive scandal at the time for then-President Petro Poroshenko who was facing reelection in a few short weeks and came amid more allegations that the Poroshenko administration had helped the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 by digging up dirt on then Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Lutsenko also said that the State Department was withholding $4 million of foreign aid that was supposed to go to his office, which the State Department denied, with a spokesperson telling The Hill that “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”
Here, again, the State Department appears to have made funding contingent on firing prosecutors, this time Kholodnytskyi.
A couple of weeks later, on April 1, Solomon reported Kholodnytskyi had reopened the office’s investigation of Burisma Holdings following Biden’s Jan. 2018 comments to the Council on Foreign Relations about having the former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, Lutsenko’s predecessor, fired in March 2016.
Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations at the Jan. 2018 event he threatened $1.2 billion of loan guarantees to get Shokin fired: “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ …Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
Here, Biden was referring to Lutsenko, the same Prosecutor General that later accused U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch of giving him a do-not-prosecute list, calling him “someone who was solid.”
Viktor Shokin, Lutsenko’s predecessor who Biden bragged about firing also told The Hill’s John Solomon, prior to the election of the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that he was removed in 2016 because of his investigation of Burisma, which Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the Board of Directors of. Shokin told Solomon he had “specific plans” to investigate including “interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
Apparently, the Ukrainian officials were not happy with Biden’s admission to the Council on Foreign Relations about getting Shokin fired. “Unfortunately, Mr. Biden had correlated and connected this aid with some of the HR (personnel) issues and changes in the prosecutor’s office,” Lutsenko told Solomon.
Kholodnytskyi, referring to the Burisma investigation, said, “We were able to start this case again… [But] we don’t see any result from this case one year after the reopening because of some external influence.”
Lutsenko told Solomon he wanted to give the information to Attorney General William Barr. The U.S. and Ukraine signed a mutual legal assistance treaty in 1998.
Then, on April 21, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky trounced Poroshenko in the election on an anti-corruption platform and promising to help end the civil war in Ukraine that began in 2014, garnering 73 percent of the vote.
Weeks later on May 7, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post amid allegations that she was undermining U.S. policy in Ukraine. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported the move, according to a senior administration official in an Oct. 3 report by the Wall Street Journal.
This is what the House Democrats’ impeachment is all about: Yovanovitch.
This is not about the July 25, 2019 conversation by President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, where Zelensky confirmed the Burisma investigation, which the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office said in April before Zelensky was even elected was being pursued since 2018.
Zelensky told Trump he knew all about the investigation, “I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation [of Biden]… Since we have won the absolute majority in … our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue…. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and work on the investigation of the case…”
Zelensky even asked Trump for assistance, saying, “On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country…”
No, this is about one disgruntled ambassador who had lost the faith of Ukrainian officials, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo amid allegations said she was obstructing Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts long before Zelensky even won the election. Now, she’s coming to testify to Congress.
Ukraine says it has been investigating corruption including at Burisma in 2018 before Zelensky was even standing for election, and was looking for U.S. help to root it out, not the other way around. Where is the quid pro quo to investigate Biden? In a time machine?
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.