37.67 F
New York
April 1, 2020
Home » Blog » Senate Panel Delays Subpoena Vote Over Concerns About Ukraine Witness
New York Times - Politics

Senate Panel Delays Subpoena Vote Over Concerns About Ukraine Witness

Senate Panel Delays Subpoena Vote Over Concerns About Ukraine Witness
Spread the Love!!

WASHINGTON — A Republican Senate committee chairman abruptly called off a subpoena vote on Wednesday after federal authorities shared concerns that a former Ukrainian official cooperating with Republican investigators could be spreading Russian disinformation.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was under pressure from Democrats and members of his own party after a pair of briefings from federal officials on Tuesday. The briefings raised questions about the Ukrainian’s reliability as a source for two politically sensitive investigations before the committee, including one into the family of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Johnson told lawmakers Wednesday afternoon he would delay his pursuit of additional documents from the former Ukrainian official, Andrii Telizhenko, until intelligence officials could provide more information to lawmakers.

In a letter to fellow lawmakers Wednesday afternoon just before the scheduled vote, Mr. Johnson told his colleagues he was postponing the vote “out of an abundance of caution, and to allow time for you to receive additional briefings.”

Instead, Mr. Johnson said he would move to issue a subpoena to Blue Star Strategies, a Washington lobbying firm for which Mr. Telizhenko worked on behalf of clients, including a Ukrainian energy company that paid Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, as a board member.

“There was a suggestion made by both Democrat and Republican senators: Why don’t you just go straight to the source, Blue Star Strategies, which is what I decided to do,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview.

He would not specify the questions raised about Mr. Telizhenko in the briefings on Tuesday. But, he said, “I did not think there was any kind of big deal,” and noted that the subpoena merely sought correspondence from Mr. Telizhenko related to his work for Blue Star, which could be vetted for authenticity by the company and the United States intelligence community.

“Let’s say you’re investigating drug cartels. I guess you can interview choir boys, but in general, if you really want to find out what’s happening in a drug cartel, you might be dealing with people that you might question their veracity, which is what we do,” Mr. Johnson said. “When it comes to dealing with anybody in Ukraine, I take what they tell me with a grain of salt, and we proceed with real caution. And I think that really is, in the end, what the F.B.I.’s brief was all about was, just be careful, which we are.”

Karen A. Tramontano, a partner at Blue Star Strategies, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. But last month at a forum hosted by the University of the District of Columbia, she suggested that the inquiry into her company was part of “a whole sideshow that’s going on in the Senate right now, and nobody’s stopping it.”

Staff members for the committee have been working with Mr. Telizhenko for months, interviewing him and collecting documents to bolster two separate investigations into subjects that could help President Trump as he heads into a re-election campaign in which Mr. Biden has emerged as his leading Democratic challenger. The White House is closely monitoring Mr. Johnson’s efforts on the investigations, according to a person familiar with the situation.

One of the investigations deals with the overlap between Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company widely accused of corruption, and his father’s diplomacy in Ukraine. The other relates to claims that Ukrainian officials tried to undermine Mr. Trump during his 2016 campaign.

Both subjects featured prominently in last year’s impeachment of Mr. Trump, who had urged the Ukrainians to investigate the matters.

Mr. Telizhenko has firsthand experience in both subjects. Before his work with Blue Star on behalf of Burisma, he worked for Ukraine’s top prosecutor and then in Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington, where, he claims, he was instructed by a superior to work with a Democratic operative to collect and disseminate damaging information about Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Republicans seized on those claims to justify Mr. Trump’s push for investigations and, at times, to answer concerns about Russia’s interference to help Mr. Trump in 2016.

American intelligence agencies have concerns about Mr. Telizhenko’s role in spreading disinformation about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Intelligence agencies have contended for months that Russian intelligence has worked to amplify, spread and distort stories relating to the involvement of Ukrainian officials in trying to influence the outcome of the last presidential election, as part of a campaign to minimize or obscure Moscow’s own efforts.

Mr. Telizhenko, 29, was raised partly in Canada, attended the University of the District of Columbia and speaks fluent English. During the 2014 uprising that ousted Ukraine’s Russia-aligned president, Mr. Telizhenko helped the protesters connect with Western politicians including Senator John McCain, whose funeral he attended in 2018.

Mr. Telizhenko says he is a political conservative and has been hanging out at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, appearing on the conservative One America News Network and forging a bond with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose efforts to uncover politically useful information have been assisted by Mr. Telizhenko.

Mr. Telizhenko, who has been a private consultant since leaving his role with the embassy in 2016, declined to identify his clients. But someone familiar with his work said that he had until recently represented a pair of wealthy businessmen in the former Soviet Union who have intermittently embraced and distanced themselves from Russia — the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and the Ukrainian-Russian developer Pavel Fuks.

Mr. Telizhenko dismissed suggestions that his efforts to assist with the politically charged investigations were on behalf of any client or foreign power. Noting that he first publicly aired his claims about the Ukrainian Embassy in early January 2017, he said in an interview on Wednesday, “How can I control what is picked up by the Russians or anybody else?”

He said he was merely trying to salvage his reputation against Democratic efforts to discredit him and to protect Mr. Biden and others in the party.

“When people in the Democratic Party and in Blue Star’s office started to try to destroy my reputation by calling me a Russian spy,” he said, “I had no choice but to go to the proper authorities in the United States to investigate my information and to clear my name.”

Mr. Telizhenko was called to testify last year before the Federal Election Commission as part of an investigation into whether Democrats violated campaign laws by working with the Ukrainian Embassy staff in 2016, according to someone familiar with the investigation. And Mr. Telizhenko had told staff members for Mr. Johnson’s committee that he had shared some of the same information he provided them with the F.B.I. as a source, according to someone familiar with the conversations.

But late last month, when Mr. Telizhenko arrived in New York, partly to meet with Mr. Giuliani, he said he was questioned for hours by detectives from Customs and Border Protection, who searched his phone and asked him whether he was working with Russian or Ukrainian intelligence.

In the run-up to the proposed subpoena vote, the F.B.I. briefed staff members for Mr. Johnson and Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the committee’s top Democrat, in a classified setting Tuesday morning to specifically discuss Mr. Telizhenko, according to two officials familiar with the briefings who were not authorized to discuss classified information.

The F.B.I.’s message in the briefing contradicted information it had shared during an earlier, unclassified phone call with committee staff, according to the officials and to Mr. Johnson. “There was a discrepancy,” Mr. Johnson said. “The situation got a little muddied yesterday, so we’re going to have to kind of work our way through that.”

The topic of Mr. Telizhenko and Russian disinformation also came up during a classified election security briefing open to all senators on Tuesday, the officials said.

Members of the Homeland Security Committee huddled afterward to discuss how to proceed, and lawmakers from both parties expressed discomfort with approving a subpoena without more information from the intelligence community, the people said.

Among them was Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, who had only grudgingly agreed to support the subpoena in the first place for what he considered a politically motivated inquiry.

Mr. Peters said on Wednesday that he would continue to push for more information from the intelligence agencies.

Democrats and even some Republicans have heavily criticized Mr. Johnson for using the committee to advance an investigation that appears to be meant to put a cloud around Mr. Biden’s candidacy, even if he is not a target of the investigation and there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. The chairman insists his interest has nothing to do with politics, but Mr. Trump has made no secret of the fact that he hopes to use the Bidens’ ties to Ukraine as a major theme of his campaign.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.

Source link

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Click whichever is suitable. Accept Read More