In Pushing For Ukraine Dirt, Trump Saw Value In Corrupt Prosecutors

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the media while departing the White House on October 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump is scheduled to attend a campaign rally in Louisi... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the media while departing the White House on October 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump is scheduled to attend a campaign rally in Louisiana later in the day. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
October 15, 2019 4:46 p.m.

There’s a deep irony in the accusations against Joe Biden that President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine sought to substantiate.

It boils down to this: while claiming that Biden abused his office to corruptly fire a prosecutor whose investigation supposedly threatened his son, Trump found political benefit from two successive corrupt Ukrainian prosecutors, boosting them and allegedly trying to protect one from firing.

The two prosecutors — Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — were eventually fired by their own governments amid allegations of incompetence and widespread corruption that impeded any meaningful investigation into graft in the Eastern European nation.

Eventually, both officials would come to see a benefit to offering Trump and the wider GOP narratives about the Bidens and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

For Trump, the appearance of the Ukrainian prosecutors came in the long wake of the August 2016 resignation of Paul Manafort as his campaign chairman, and the embarrassment of his subsequent prosecution.

Manafort was forced to resign after a mysterious bribe ledger from his old Ukrainian clients surfaced in Kyiv, showing his name next to $12.7 million in appropriated bribes. The timing of the ledger’s release in the heat of the election season — and the fact that it appeared to have been leaked from a Ukrainian law enforcement agency — fed suspicions that the Ukrainian government had intervened to hurt Trump’s candidacy.

That left lingering resentment. Trump called for investigations into the matter.

By 2019, Trumpworld had begun to gear up for the 2020 election. Former Vice President Joe Biden was leading in the polls in the Democratic primary, setting him up as an obvious potential challenger to Trump.

But Kyiv had not gotten quieter. Lutsenko, now the prosecutor general, appears to have been waging a quiet war to have then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch removed from her post.

Lutsenko is reportedly the unnamed Ukrainian official who, in a federal indictment released last week, directed two associates of Rudy Giuliani’s to lobby for Yovanovitch’s removal.

He had reason to fear U.S. influence: his predecessor, Viktor Shokin, was removed in March 2016 amid similar concerns over lack of progress in the fight against corruption. Biden helped push Shokin out, along with many other Western backers of Ukraine.

The effort to remove Yovanovitch described in the indictment initially failed. Lutsenko apparently revived it this past year in a series of interviews with The Hill’s John Solomon, making allegations of corruption by the Bidens and supposed Ukrainian collusion with the Democratic National Committee that appeared tailored to benefit Trump politically.

Much of those allegations were put forth by Lutsenko’s corrupt predecessor, Shokin.

That general prosecutor was fired in March 2016 amid pressure from Ukraine’s Western backers over having stymied crucial investigations into grand corruption and into the shootings that occurred during Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.

But Shokin came forward and in an affidavit claimed that it was Biden who conspired to remove him for the debunked reason of shutting down an investigation into the Ukrainian gas company on whose board the vice president’s son sat.

In the interviews with Solomon, Lutsenko followed up on this, alternately accusing Yovanovitch of corruption and saying that he was opening investigations into Shokin’s firing and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump welcomed the allegations, telling Sean Hannity in April 2019 that Solomon’s reporting “sounds like big stuff.”

Trump expressed support for Lutsenko in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.  A second whistleblower familiar with the call reportedly said in a complaint that Trump had pressed Zelensky “not to fire Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who the President claimed was doing a good job.”

Trump told the Ukrainian leader that “a lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.

“Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man,” Trump added.

By late September, the basic facts of Trump’s pressure campaign — and his willingness to turn to foreign countries for political benefit — had come to light.

But that did not stop the Trump campaign from releasing a campaign video on Oct. 9 restating the main theses about the Bidens put forth by Lutsenko and Shokin, again laundering the political benefit they offered into the U.S.

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