A top Senate Democrat wants answers from the Trump administration about what he calls a suspiciously-timed sanctioning of the man behind the bogus narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, and a promoter of the debunked claims that President-elect Joe Biden acted corruptly to help his son’s business in the country.
On Jan. 11, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on Andrii Telizhenko for his involvement in a “Russia-linked foreign influence network” steered by Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian politician who was deemed a Russian intelligence asset when Treasury sanctioned him in September 2020. Along with three other Ukrainian nationals, Telizhenko affiliated himself with Derkach “through the coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations involving” Biden, according to the Treasury announcement. After Derkach was sanctioned, Telizhenko told The Daily Beast he “never liked” the guy or his methods.
On Tuesday, Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking why it took the outgoing administration an additional four months to punish Telizhenko—and why they cooperated with the Senate GOP probe into the Bidens, released shortly before the November election, that advanced several of the claims Telizhenko made.
Calling the imposition of sanctions on Telizhenko “long overdue,” Wyden said he was “deeply concerned” it did not happen sooner, “particularly given that the Department was apparently aware that he was a key figure in Derkach’s conspiracy.”
“In fact,” Wyden said, “rather than designating Mr. Telizhenko when the Department designated Mr. Derkach, the Department appears to have expeditiously cooperated with a Senate Republican investigation it knew to be predicated on Mr. Telizhenko’s baseless claims.”
Spokespeople for the State Department and the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ron Johnson Brands Colleague a Liar, Airs Election Conspiracies in Unhinged Senate Hearing
Last year, two Senate GOP chairmen, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), conducted an election-year investigation into allegations—propagated by Derkach, who was working with President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani—that Biden, as vice president, took actions to benefit his son Hunter’s business interests in the country.
Despite the probe’s overtly partisan aims, which drew criticism even from Republican senators, the Trump administration provided a large volume of internal documents to fuel this investigation—some 16,000 pages from State alone, according to Wyden. The ultimate GOP report on the Bidens was largely a rehash of existing news reporting, and found no evidence that Joe Biden acted improperly or violated any laws.
Some Republican lawmakers, including Johnson, have vowed to keep probing the issue during the Biden presidency—a task made harder by Democrats’ recapturing of the Senate majority and control of its committees. Wyden is set to hold the gavel on the Finance Committee come Wednesday, when three new Democratic senators are sworn in and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris officially becomes the deciding vote in the tied Senate.
Telizhenko, a former junior Ukrainian diplomat with ties to conservative politics in the U.S., met with Johnson in July 2019 to discuss the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered decisively in the 2016 election. Telizhenko was a leading proponent of that conspiracy, which former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified in 2019 was a “fictional narrative” that was of Moscow’s making. He was also active in pushing conspiracies on the Bidens: he claimed to have furnished documents to Johnson and Grassley’s probe, including more than 100 emails from his time working at Kyiv’s embassy in Washington.
Johnson has repeatedly denied Telizhenko’s involvement in his investigation. His report devotes a section to describing Telizhenko’s contacts with Obama administration officials.
But Treasury’s announcement of sanctions on Telizhenko indicates that the operative was on their radar as a player in a Russia-backed disinformation campaign targeted at top Republican officials in the U.S., an effort the department itself sketched out when it sanctioned Derkach months before.
In that light, wrote Wyden, it is “alarming” that the State and Treasury Departments “provided documents in furtherance of the Chairmen’s efforts despite the fact Treasury knew, or should have known, the Chairmen were likely being ‘leveraged’ by Russian intelligence-linked actors to ‘spread misleading and unsubstantiated allegations.’”