A dozen document troves that could change the Ukraine scandal if Trump released them

There are still wide swaths of documentation kept under wraps inside government agencies like the State Department that could substantially alter the public’s understanding of what has happened in the U.S.-Ukraine relationships now at the heart of the impeachment probe.

As House Democrats mull whether to pursue impeachment articles and the GOP-led Senate braces for a possible trial, here are 12 tranches of government documents that could benefit the public if President Trump ordered them released, and the questions these memos might answer.

  1. Daily intelligence reports from March through August 2019 on Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky and his relationship with oligarchs and other key figures. What was the CIA, FBI and U.S. Treasury Department telling Trump and other agencies about Zelensky’s ties to oligarchs like Igor Kolomoisky, the former head of Privatbank, and any concerns the International Monetary Fund might have? Did any of these concerns reach the president’s daily brief (PDB) or come up in the debate around resolving Ukraine corruption and U.S. foreign aid? CNBC, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal all have done recent reporting suggesting there might have been intelligence and IMF concerns that have not been fully considered during the impeachment proceedings.
  2. State Department memos detailing conversations between former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. He says Yovanovitch raised the names of Ukrainians she did not want to see prosecuted during their first meeting in 2016. She calls Lutsenko’s account fiction. But State Department officials admit the U.S. embassy in Kiev did pressure Ukrainian prosecutors not to target certain activists. Are there contemporaneous State Department memos detailing these conversations and might they illuminate the dispute between Lutsenko and Yovanovitch that has become key to the impeachment hearings?
  3. State Department memos on U.S. funding given to the George Soros-backed group the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. There is documentary evidence that State provided funding to this group, that Ukrainian prosecutor sought to investigate whether that aid was spent properly and that the U.S. embassy pressured Ukraine to stand down on that investigation. How much total did State give to this group? Why was a federal agency giving money to a Soros-backed group? What did taxpayers get for their money and were they any audits to ensure the money was spent properly? Were any of Ukrainian prosecutors’ concerns legitimate?
  4. The transcripts of Joe Biden’s phone calls and meetings with Ukraine’s president and prime minister from April 2014 to January 2017 when Hunter Biden served on the board of the natural gas company Burisma Holdings. Did Burisma or Hunter Biden ever come up in the calls? What did Biden say when he urged Ukraine to fire the prosecutor overseeing an investigation of Burisma? Did any Ukrainian officials ever comment on Hunter Biden’s role at the company? Was any official assessment done by U.S. agencies to justify Biden’s threat of withholding $1 billion in U.S. aid if Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin wasn’t fired?
  5. All documents from an Office of Special Counsel whistleblower investigation into unusual energy transactions in Ukraine. The U.S. government’s main whistleblower office is investigating allegations from a U.S Energy Department worker of possible wrongdoing in U.S.-supported Ukrainian energy business. Who benefited in the United States and Ukraine from this alleged activity? Did Burisma gain any benefits from the conduct described by the whistleblower? OSC has concluded there is a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” involved in these activities.
  6. All FBI, CIA, Treasury Department and State Department documents concerning possible wrongdoing at Burisma Holdings. What did the U.S. know about allegations of corruption at the Ukrainian gas company and the efforts by the Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate? Did U.S., Latvian, Cypriot or European financial authorities flag any suspicious transactions involving Burisma or Americans during the time that Hunter Biden served on its board? Were any U.S. agencies monitoring, assisting or blocking the various investigations? When Ukraine reopened the Burisma investigations in March 2019, what did U.S. officials do?
  7. All documents from 2015-16 concerning the decision by the State Department’s foreign aid funding arm, USAID, to pursue a joint project with Burisma Holdings. State official George Kent has testified he stopped this joint project because of concerns about Burisma’s corruption reputation. Did Hunter Biden or his American business partner Devon Archer have anything to do with seeking the project? What caused its abrupt end? What issues did Kent identify as concerns and who did he alert in the White House, State or other agencies?
  8. All cables, memos and documents showing State Department’s dealings with Burisma Holding representatives in 2015 and 2016. We now know that Ukrainian authorities escalated their investigation of Burisma Holdings in February 2016 by raiding the home of the company’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Soon after, Burisma’s American representatives were pressing the State Department to help end the corruption allegations against the gas firm, specifically invoking Hunter Biden’s name. What did State officials do after being pressured by Burisma? Did the U.S. embassy in Kiev assist Burisma’s efforts to settle the corruption case against it? Who else in the U.S. government was being kept apprised?
  9. All contacts that the Energy Department, Justice Department or State Department had with Vice President Joe Biden’s office concerning Burisma Holdings, Hunter Biden or business associate Devon Archer. We now know that multiple State Department officials believed Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma created the appearance of a conflict of interest for the vice president, and at least one official tried to contact Joe Biden’s office to raise those concerns. What, if anything, did these Cabinet agencies tell Joe Biden’s office about the appearance concerns or the state of the various Ukrainian investigations into Burisma?
  10. All memos, emails and other documents concerning a possible U.S. embassy’s request in spring 2019 to monitor the social media activities and analytics of certain U.S.  media personalities considered favorable to President Trump. Did any such monitoring occur? Was it requested by the American embassy in Kiev? Who ordered it? Why did it stop? Were any legal concerns raised?
  11. All State, CIA, FBI and DOJ documents concerning efforts by individual Ukrainian government officials to exert influence on the 2016 U.S. election, including an anti-Trump Op-Ed written in August 2016 by Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington or efforts to publicize allegations against Paul Manafort. What did U.S. officials know about these efforts in 2016, and how did they react? What were these federal agencies’ reactions to a Ukrainian court decision in December 2018 suggesting some Ukrainian officials had improperly meddled in the 2016 election?
  12. All State, CIA, FBI and DOJ documents concerning contacts with a Democratic National Committee contractor named Alexandra Chalupa and her dealings with the Ukrainian embassy in Washington or other Ukrainian figures. Did anyone in these U.S. government agencies interview or have contact with Chalupa during the time the Ukraine embassy in Washington says she was seeking dirt in 2016 on Trump and Manafort?

Responding to Lt. Col. Vindman about my Ukraine columns … with the facts

I honor and applaud Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s service to his country. He’s a hero. I also respect his decision to testify at the impeachment proceedings. I suspect neither his service nor his testimony was easy.

But I also know the liberties that Lt. Col. Vindman fought on the battlefield to preserve permit for a free and honest debate in America, one that can’t be muted by the color of uniform or the crushing power of the state.

So I want to exercise my right to debate Lt. Col. Vindman about the testimony he gave about me. You see, under oath to Congress, he asserted all the factual elements in my columns at The Hill about Ukraine were false, except maybe my grammar

Here are his exact words:

“I think all the key elements were false,” Vindman testified.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y, pressed him about what he meant. “Just so I understand what you mean when you say key elements, are you referring to everything John Solomon stated or just some of it?”

“All the elements that I just laid out for you. The criticisms of corruption were false…. Were there more items in there, frankly, congressman? I don’t recall. I haven’t looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.”

Such testimony has been injurious to my reputation, one earned during 30 years of impactful reporting for news organizations that included The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

And so Lt. Col. Vindman, here are the 28 primary factual elements in my Ukraine columns, complete with attribution and links to sourcing. Please tell me which, if any, was factually wrong.

Fact 1: Hunter Biden was hired in May 2014 by Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company, at a time when his father Joe Biden was Vice President and overseeing US-Ukraine Policy. Here is the announcement. Hunter Biden’s hiring came just a few short weeks after Joe Biden urged Ukraine to expand natural gas production and use Americans to help. You can read his comments to the Ukrainian prime minister here. Hunter Biden’s firm then began receiving monthly payments totaling $166,666. You can see those payments here.

Fact 2: Burisma was under investigation by British authorities for corruption and soon came under investigation by Ukrainian authorities led by Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.

Fact 3: Vice President Joe Biden and his office were alerted by a December 2015 New York Times article that Shokin’s office was investigating Burisma and that Hunter Biden’s role at the company was undercutting his father’s anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

Fact 4: The Biden-Burisma issue created the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially for State Department officials. I especially refer you to State official George Kent’s testimony here. He testified he viewed Burisma as corrupt and the Bidens as creating the perception of a conflict of interest. His concerns both caused him to contact the vice president’s office and to block a project that State’s USAID agency was planning with Burisma in 2016. In addition, Ambassador Yovanovitch testified she, too, saw the Bidens-Burisma connection as creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. You can read her testimony here.

Fact 5: The Obama White House invited Shokin’s prosecutorial team to Washington for meetings in January 2016 to discuss their anticorruption investigations. You can read about that here. Also, here is the official agenda for that meeting in Ukraine and English. I call your attention to the NSC organizer of the meeting.

Fact 6: The Ukraine investigation of Hunter Biden’s employer, Burisma Holdings, escalated in February 2016 when Shokin’s office raided the home of company owner Mykola Zlochevsky and seized his property. Here is the announcement of that court-approved raid.

Fact 7: Shokin was making plans in February 2016 to interview Hunter Biden as part of his investigation. You can read his interview with me here, his sworn deposition to a court here and his interview with ABC News here.

Fact 8: Burisma’s American representatives lobbied the State Department in late February 2016 to help end the corruption allegations against the company, and specifically invoked Hunter Biden’s name as a reason to intervene. You can read State officials’ account of that effort here

Fact 9: Joe Biden boasted in a 2018 videotape that he forced Ukraine’s president to fire Shokin in March 2016 by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid. You can view his videotape here.

Fact 10: Shokin stated in interviews with me and ABC News that he was told he was fired because Joe Biden was unhappy the Burisma investigation wasn’t shut down. He made that claim anew in this sworn deposition prepared for a court in Europe. You can read that here.

Fact 11:  The day Shokin’s firing was announced in March 2016, Burisma’s legal representatives sought an immediate meeting with his temporary replacement to address the ongoing investigation. You can read the text of their emails here.

Fact 12: Burisma’s legal representatives secured that meeting April 6, 2016 and told Ukrainian prosecutors that “false information” had been spread to justify Shokin’s firing, according to a Ukrainian government memo about the meeting. The representatives also offered to arrange for the remaining Ukrainian prosecutors to meet with U.S  State and Justice officials. You can read the Ukrainian prosecutors’ summary memo of the meeting here and here and the Burisma lawyers’ invite to Washington here.

Fact 13: Burisma officials eventually settled the Ukraine investigations in late 2016 and early 2017, paying a multimillion dollar fine for tax issues. You can read their lawyer’s February 2017 announcement of the end of the investigations here.

Fact 14: In March 2019, Ukraine authorities reopened an investigation against Burisma and Zlochevsky based on new evidence of money laundering. You can read NABU’s February 2019 recommendation to re-open the case here, the March 2019 notice of suspicion by Ukraine prosecutors here and a May 2019 interview here with a Ukrainian senior law enforcement official stating the investigation was ongoing. And here is an announcement this week that the Zlochevsky/Burisma probe has been expanded to include allegations of theft of Ukrainian state funds.  

Fact 15: The Ukraine embassy in Washington issued a statement in April 2019 admitting that a Democratic National Committee contractor named Alexandra Chalupa solicited Ukrainian officials in spring 2016 for dirt on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in hopes of staging a congressional hearing close to the 2016 election that would damage Trump’s election chances. You can read the embassy’s statement here and here. Your colleague, Dr. Fiona Hill, confirmed this episode, testifying “Ukraine bet on the wrong horse. They bet on Hillary Clinton winning.” You can read her testimony here.

Fact 16: Chalupa sent an email to top DNC officials in May 2016 acknowledging she was working on the Manafort issue. You can read the email here.

Fact 17: Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Valeriy Chaly, wrote an OpEd in The Hill in August 2016 slamming GOP nominee Donald Trump for his policies on Russia despite a Geneva Convention requirement that ambassadors not become embroiled in the internal affairs or elections of their host countries. You can read Ambassador Chaly’s OpEd here and the Geneva Convention rules of conduct for foreign diplomats here. And your colleagues Ambassador Yovanovitch and Dr. Hill both confirmed this, with Dr. Hill testifying this week that Chaly’s OpEd was “probably not the most advisable thing to do.”

Fact 18: A Ukrainian district court ruled in December 2018 that the summer 2016 release of information by Ukrainian Parliamentary member Sergey Leschenko and NABU director Artem Sytnyk about an ongoing investigation of Manafort amounted to an improper interference by Ukraine’s government in the 2016 U.S. election.  You can read the court ruling here. Leschenko and Sytnyk deny the allegations, and have won an appeal to suspend that ruling on a jurisdictional technicality.

Fact 19: George Soros’ Open Society Foundation issued a memo in February 2016 on its strategy for Ukraine, identifying the nonprofit Anti-Corruption Action Centre as the lead for its efforts. You can read the memo here.

Fact 20: The State Department and Soros’ foundation jointly funded the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. You can read about that funding here from the Centre’s own funding records and George Kent’s testimony about it here.

Fact 21: In April 2016, US embassy charge d’affaires George Kent sent a letter to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office demanding that Ukrainian prosecutors stand down a series of investigations into how Ukrainian nonprofits spent U.S. aid dollars, including the Anti-Corruption Actions Centre. You can read that letter here. Kent testified he signed the letter here.

Fact 22: Then-Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said in a televised interview with me that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during a 2016 meeting provided the lists of names of Ukrainian nationals and groups she did want to see prosecuted. You can see I accurately quoted him by watching the video here.

Fact 23: Ambassador Yovanovitch and her embassy denied Lutsenko’s claim, calling it a “fabrication.” I reported their reaction here.

Fact 24: Despite the differing accounts of what happened at the Lutsenko-Yovanovitch meeting, a senior U.S. official in an interview arranged by the State Department stated to me in spring 2019 that US officials did pressure Lutsenko’s office on several occasions not to “prosecute, investigate or harass” certain Ukrainian activists, including Parliamentary member Leschenko, journalist Vitali Shabunin, the Anti-Corruption Action Centre and NABU director Sytnyk. You can read that official’s comments here. In addition, George Kent confirmed this same information in his deposition here.

Fact 25: In May 2018, then-House Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions sent an official congressional letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking that Yovanovitch be recalled as ambassador to Ukraine. Sessions and State confirmed the official letter, which you can read here.

Fact 26: In fall 2018, Ukrainian prosecutors, using a third party, hired an American lawyer (a former U.S. attorney) to proffer information to the U.S. government about certain activities at the U.S. embassy, involving Burisma and involving the 2016 election, that they believed might have violated U.S. law. You can read their account here. You can also confirm it independently by talking to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan or the American lawyer representing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ interests.

Fact 27: In May 2016, one of George Soros’ top aides secured a meeting with the top Eurasia policy official in the State Department to discuss Russian bond issues. You can read the State memos on that meeting here.

Fact 28: In June 2016, Soros himself secured a telephonic meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to discuss Ukraine policy. You can read the State memos on that meeting here.

Lt. Col. Vindman, if you have information that contradicts any of these 28 factual elements in my columns I ask that you make it publicly available. Your testimony did not.

If you don’t have evidence these 28 facts are wrong, I ask that you correct your testimony because any effort to call factually accurate reporting false only misleads America and chills the free debate our Constitutional framers so cherished to protect.

The Ukraine scandal timeline Democrats and their media allies don’t want America to see

For weeks now, Democratic members of Congress, career State Department and National Security Council experts and their allies in the media suggest questions about Joe Biden and a Ukrainian gas company and Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election were nothing more than debunked conspiracy theories.

In reality, the facts on both these issues are clearly substantiated. And as I pointed out last week, many of the witnesses that House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff called during the impeachment proceedings confirmed concerns about both.

Here is a detailed timeline of key events in the Ukraine scandal, complete with the corroborating evidence. You make your own judgement as to what happened.

February 2014.

Vice President Joe Biden named by President Obama to be U.S. point man on Ukrainian crisis after Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity leads to ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as Ukrainian president.

February 21, 2014

George Soros’ Open Society Foundation publishes anticorruption strategy for Ukraine identifying the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a nonprofit that Soros’ foundation and the U.S. State Department jointly fund, as the leading edge of the foundation’s strategy for Ukraine.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/403223726/Open-Society-2014-Memo

March 2014

New Ukrainian elections set for May 2014 and Petro Poroshenko emerges as top Western-friendly candidate for president.

April 13, 2014:

Devon Archer, the business partner of Hunter Biden, son of the VP, and Christopher Heinz, stepson of Secretary of State John Kerry, is named an independent director of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.

Validation:  https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27403003

April 15, 2014:

Burisma Holdings makes two payments to the Morgan Stanley account of Devon Archer’s and Hunter Biden’s firm Rosemont Seneca Bohai in the amounts of $83,333.33 and $29,424.82, according to financial records obtained by Ukrainian authorities and the FBI.

Validation: Burisma Holdings financial records obtained by Ukraine Prosecutor General’s Office. https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

                   FBI records obtained from Rosemont Seneca Bohai: https://www.scribd.com/document/404001731/Rosemont-Seneca-Partners-Court-File

April 15, 2014:

Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s partner in Rosemont Seneca Bohai and Burisma Holdings, checks into White House for meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, according to the Secret Service’s official WAVES entry logs for the Obama White House.

April 22, 2014:

VP Joe Biden meets with Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and urges Ukraine to ramp up energy production to free itself from its Russian natural gas dependence. Biden boasts that “an American team is currently in the region working with Ukraine and its neighbors to increase Ukraine’s short-term energy supply.” Yatsenyuk welcomes help from American “investors” in modernizing natural gas supply lines in Ukraine.

Validation: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/22/remarks-press-vice-president-joe-biden-and-ukrainian-prime-minister-arse

April 24, 2014:

Joe Biden meets with candidate Poroshenko.

Validation: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2014/04/petro-poroshenko-interview-ukrainian-presidential-candidate-discusses-putin-the-west-and-ukraine.html

April 28, 2014:

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office freezes $23 million in assets kept in London by Burisma Holdings and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, on grounds it was fraudulently transferred from Ukraine. Zlochevsky and Burisma deny wrongdoing.

Validation: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/cases/ukraine-money-laundering-investigation/

May 13, 2014

Hunter Biden announced as a board member for Ukraine’s largest natural gas company Burisma Holdings, which is run by Mykola Zlochevsky, a former Cabinet official for ousted president Victor Yanukovych.

Validation:  https://www.cnbc.com/2014/05/13/bidens-son-joins-ukraine-gas-companys-board-of-directors.html

https://burisma-group.com/hunter-biden-joins-the-team-of-burisma-holdings/

May 13, 2014

Christopher Heinz, business partner to Devon Archer and Hunter Biden and stepson to John Kerry, sends email to Secretary of State’s top aides distancing himself from Archer, Biden appointments to Burisma Holdings board, according to FOIA released to Citizens United.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/433436789/CU-v-State-FOIA-Doc-Ukraine

May 15, 2014

Burisma Holdings makes two equal $83,333.33 payments totaling $166,666.66 to the Morgan Stanley account of Hunter Biden’s and Devon Archer’s firm Rosemont Seneca Bohai, according to the company’s official ledger and Rosemont Seneca Bohais bank records obtained by the FBI. Similar payments are made every month for more than a year.

Validation: Burisma Holdings financial records released by Ukraine Prosecutor General’s Office: https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

Rosemont Seneca records seized by FBI: https://www.scribd.com/document/404001731/Rosemont-Seneca-Partners-Court-File

May 20, 2014

David Leiter, former chief of staff to John Kerry, hired as a lobbyist for Burisma Holdings, Senate lobbying records show. The firm is paid $90,000 in 2014 to lobby Congress and the State Department.

Validation: https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/client_reports.php?id=F212407&year=2014

May 25, 2014

Poroshenko wins the Ukraine presidential election

July 5, 2014:

Burisma Holdings pays $250,000 retainer to Boies Schiller law firm where board member Hunter Biden also works.

Validation: Burisma Holdings financial records released by Ukraine Prosecutor General’s Office: https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

Aug. 20, 2014

Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s office opens criminal investigation of Burisma Holdings and Mykola Zlochevsky for alleged corrupt award of gas exploration permits and eventual looting of company, according to Ukrainian prosecutor general’s case file. 

Sept. 16, 2014

Burisma Holdings makes $33,039.77 payment to Boies Schiller law firm, according to company records.

Validation: Burisma Holdings accounting ledger obtained by Ukraine Prosecutor General’s Office  https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

December 16, 2014

Former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, a longtime Joe Biden adviser, confirmed by Senate as Deputy Secretary of State under John Kerry.

Jan. 18, 2015:

Prosecutor General’s office in Ukraine declares Burisma Holdings founder Mykola Zlochevsky a fugitive “wanted in Ukraine.”

Validation: https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/reform-watch/prosecutors-put-zlochevsky-multimillionaire-ex-ecology-minister-on-wanted-list-377719.html

Jan. 29, 2015:

British Serious Fraud Office announces it is closing down investigation into Burisma and Zlochevsky for insufficient evidence.

Validation: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/cases/ukraine-money-laundering-investigation/

March 18, 2015

VP Biden has phone call with President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-presidents-call-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-6/

March 30, 2015:

George Soros announces plans to invest $1 billion in Ukrainian energy and technology sectors.

Validation: https://money.cnn.com/2015/03/30/investing/ukraine-soros-billion-russia/index.html

April 15, 2015

VP Joe Biden speaks in Ukraine, praising the decision to appoint a new head of the NABU, the new Ukrainian law enforcement investigative arm set up by United States.

March 22, 2015:

Hunter Biden emails his father’s longtime trusted aide, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, with the following message: “Have a few minutes next week to grab a cup of coffee? I know you are impossibly busy, but would like to get your advice on a couple of things, Best, Hunter.”

Blinken responds the same day with an “absolutely” and added, “Look forward to seeing you.”

The records indicate the two men were scheduled to meet the afternoon of May 27, 2015.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/436054889/Hunter-Biden-Blinken-May-2015-Contacts

June 11, 2015

Burisma Holdings makes $20,000 donation to the Delaware Community Foundation in the name of Beau Biden, the vice president’s oldest son who died of cancer, according to the company’s financial records released by Ukraine prosecutor general’s office.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

June 12, 2015

VP Biden calls President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-presidents-call-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-8/

July 15, 2015

VP Biden and Commerce Secretary Pritzker attend first ever US-Ukraine Chamber of Business meeting.

Validation: https://www.uschamber.com/first-annual-us-ukraine-business-forum

July 22, 2015:

Hunter Biden meets with Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken for lunch at State Department, according to State Department memos.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/433389212/Biden-Blinken-Meeting

July 24, 2015:

VP Biden calls President Poroshenko, raises concerns about anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-presidents-call-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-10/

Aug. 16, 2015

Devon Archer throws a $10,000 a plate fund-raiser in New York for the Seed Global Health charity founded by Secretary of State Kerry’s daughter, Dr. Vanessa Kerry, according to official invite.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/432522987/Devon-Archer-Fundraiser-Vanessa-Kerry

Aug. 28, 2015

VP Biden calls President Poroshenko

Validation:  https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-presidents-call-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-082815/

Sept. 25, 2015:

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt gives speech imploring Ukrainian prosecutors to do more to bring Burisma’s Zlochevsky to justice.

Validation: https://www.rferl.org/a/us-ambassador-upbraids-ukraine-over-corruption-efforts/27271294.html

Sept. 29, 2015

VP Biden meets with President Poroshenko in Ukraine.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-meeting-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko/

Nov. 5, 2015

VP Biden calls President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-call-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-110515/

Nov. 18, 2015

Burisma Holdings makes $60,000 payment to the American legal, lobbying and communications firm Blue Star Strategies for consulting work, according to company’s official ledger.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/436048670/Burisma-Holdings-Accounting-Ledger

Dec. 7, 2015

VP Biden meets with President Poroshenko and demands the president make “hard decisions” to eliminate “the cancer of corruption” in his country.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/remarks-vice-president-joe-biden-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko-bilateral-meeting/

Dec. 8, 2015

The New York Times publishes article stating Prosecutor General Shokin’s office is investigating Burisma Holdings and its founder Zlochecvsky, and that Hunter Biden’s participation on Burisma board is undercutting Joe Biden’s anticorruption message in Ukraine. VP Biden office quoted in story.

Validation: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/09/world/europe/corruption-ukraine-joe-biden-son-hunter-biden-ties.html

Jan. 21-24, 2016:

Obama White House invites leaders of Ukraine’s general prosecutor office to Washington for a hastily arranged set of meetings to discuss anticorruption cases, including Burisma and Party of Regions case involving Paul Manafort..

Validation: https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/440730-how-the-obama-white-house-engaged-ukraine-to-give-russia-collusion

Feb. 4, 2016

Ukraine general prosecutor’s office under the direction of Viktor Shokin announces the seizure of assets from Burisma Holdings founder Mykola Zlochevsky under a continuing criminal investigation. The seizure occurred on Feb. 2, 2016, according to the announcement.

Validation: https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/322395.html

Feb. 4, 2016

Burisma board member Hunter Biden sends a Twitter notification to Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, a longtime adviser to Joe Biden, indicating he is following Blinken on Twitter.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/433389211/HunterBidenFollowBlinkenTwitter

Feb. 11, 18, 19, 2016

VP Biden holds series of phone calls with President Poroshenko to check on status of pending items from their December 2015 meeting.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-calls-prime-minister-arseniy-yatsenyuk-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine-021916/

Feb. 24-March 1, 2016:

An American representative for Burisma Holdings, Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies, seeks meeting with Undersecretary of State Catherine A. Novelli to discuss ending the corruption allegations against the Ukrainian gas firm.  Hunter Biden’s name was specifically invoked by the Burisma representative as a reason the State Department should help. “Per our conversation, Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies requested a meeting to discuss with U/S Novelli USG remarks alleging Burisma (Ukrainian energy company) of corruption.”

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/433389210/Bluestar-Novelli-Contacts

March 2, 2016:

Devon Archer, a business partner of Hunter Biden and fellow American board member on Burisma Holdings, secures meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department memos say.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/433389208/Archer-Meeting-Kerry

March 15, 2016

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland demands Ukraine “appoint and confirm a new, clean Prosecutor General, who is committed to rebuilding the integrity of the PGO, and investigate, indict and successfully prosecute corruption and asset recovery cases – including locking up dirty personnel in the PGO itself.”

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/ukrainian-reforms-two-years-maidan-revolution-russian-invasion/

March 22, 2016

VP Joe Biden engages in phone call from Washington DC with Ukrainian president Poroshenko about U.S. loan guarantees. It is believed in this call that Biden renews his demands that the president fire Prosecutor General Shokin, who is overseeing the Burisma prosecution, or risk losing the next $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-call-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine-032216/

March 29, 2016

Ukraine parliament fires Prosecutor General Shokin at urging of President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/30/world/europe/political-stability-in-the-balance-as-ukraine-ousts-top-prosecutor.html

March 29, 2016:

John Buretta, an American lawyer hired by Burisma Holdings, seeks to contact the Acting Prosecutor General Sevruk seeking a meeting about the Burisma investigation just hours after his boss, Prosecutor General Shokin, was fired under pressure from VP Joe Biden, according to email Buretta’s legal team sent the Ukraine embassy in Washington.

Validation: https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/463307-solomon-these-once-secret-memos-cast-doubt-on-joe-bidens-ukraine-story

March 30, 2016:

Burisma Holdings’ U.S. legal team seeks help of Ukrainian embassy official Andrii Telizhenko in Washington seeking urgent meeting with new Acting Prosecutor General of Ukraine, according to legal team’s email to embassy.

Validation: https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/463307-solomon-these-once-secret-memos-cast-doubt-on-joe-bidens-ukraine-story

March 31, 2016

VP Joe Biden arrives in Ukraine and announces $1 billion in loan guarantees, ending threat to withhold aid and force Ukraine into debt default, and also delivers $239 million more in promised aid.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-meeting-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine-033116/

April 4, 2016:

George Kent, a senior US official at the American embassy in Ukraine, writes a letter asking Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office to stand down their investigation of the Soros-funded group the Anti-Corruption Action Centre.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/402559592/Embassy2GPLetter4-4-16

April 6, 2016

Burisma Holdings’ U.S. legal team of John Buretta, Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano meets with Ukraine’s Acting Prosecutor General Sevruk to seek resolution of Burisma criminal investigation. American lawyers apologize for “false information” spread by U.S. government to force the firing of Shokin and offer Prosecutor General’s office an olive branch of arranging a meeting in Washington to clear the air.

Validation: Official Prosecutor General’s memo of meeting: https://www.scribd.com/document/427618143/Ukraine-PGO-Memo-Untranslated

                   English translation: https://www.scribd.com/document/427616178/Ukraine-PGO-Memo-Translation

April 14, 2016

VP Biden calls President Poroshenko and “stressed the urgency of putting in place a new Prosecutor General who would bolster the agency’s anti-corruption efforts.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-call-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine-041416/

May 4, 2016:

DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa writes email to bosses at party headquarters derailing her work to get dirt on Trump and Manafort from Ukraine.

Validation: https://wikileaks.org/dnc-emails/emailid/3962

May 12, 2016

Yurii Lutsenko named the new Prosecutor General of Ukraine, taking over investigations that include Burisma Holdings. VP Joe Biden later praises Lutsenko as a “solid guy” during 2018 speech at Atlantic Counsel.

Validation: : https://www.cfr.org/event/foreign-affairs-issue-launch-former-vice-president-joe-biden

May 25, 2016:

Senior George Soros adviser provides private briefing to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland about Russian bond market, according to official State Department memo of briefing.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/421082234/SorosNulandRussia-Bond-Market

May 27, 2016

VP Biden holds phone call with President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-call-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine-052716/

June 1, 2016:

George Soros seeks and receives a telephonic meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to discuss Ukraine, according to the official State Department record of call

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/421081817/SorosNulandJune1-2016-Contacts-Ukraine

Aug. 4, 2016:

Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Valeriy Chaly, takes extraordinary step of writing an OpEd in The Hill intervening in the US presidential election, slamming Trump’s policies and comments on Russia.

Validation: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/international/290411-ukraines-ambassador-trumps-comments-send-wrong-message-to

Aug. 12, 2016

Phone call between VP Biden and President Poroshenko

Sept. 20, 2016

VP Biden meets President Poroshenko on sidelines of UN meeting. Confirms $1 billion in loan guarantees has been made.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-meeting-president-petro-poroshenko-ukraine/

Nov. 8, 2016

Donald Trump wins election to become 45th president of United States, ending eight years of Democratic control of the White House.

Dec. 15, 2016

VP Biden holds phone call with Ukraine president and prime minister, praises work of NABU.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/readout-vice-president-bidens-calls-president-ukraine-petro-poroshenko-prime-minister-ukraine-volodymyr-groysman/

Jan. 11, 2017:

Politico reports possible effort by DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa to seek Russia dirt on Trump and Manafort from Ukraine embassy in Washington during 2016 election.

Validation: https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446

Jan. 17-18, 2017

Biden makes final appearance in Ukraine with President Poroshenko.

Validation: https://ua.usembassy.gov/remarks-vice-president-joe-biden-joint-press-availability-ukrainian-president-petro-poroshenko/

February 1, 2017:

John Buretta, the American lawyer for Burisma Holdings, gives interview in Kiev confirming there were criminal cases open in 2016 in Ukraine but all have been settled, the last with a penalty for tax violations.

Validation: https://www.kyivpost.com/business-wire/john-buretta-us-important-close-casesagainst-burisma-nikolayzlochevskyiin-legally-sound-manner.html

Jan. 25, 2018

Former VP Biden boasts at Council of Foreign Relations events in Washington that he strong-armed Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko into firing Prosecutor General Shokin, using loan guarantees as leverage. He also calls Shokin’s replacement, Yuriy Lutsenko, “solid.”

Validation: https://www.cfr.org/event/foreign-affairs-issue-launch-former-vice-president-joe-biden

May 9, 2018

House Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions writes letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding removal of US Ambassador to Kiev Marie Yovanovitch.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/402558867/Sessions-Pompeo-correspondence-2018

December 12, 2018:

Ukrainian court rules that the efforts by Ukrainian parliamentary member Sergey Leschenko and NABU chief Artem Sytnyk to publicize the Manafort black ledger documents in 2016 were an improper foreign intervention in the American presidential election.

Validation: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/publication-of-manafort-payments-violated-law-interfered-in-us-election-kyiv-court-rules.html

Feb. 10, 2019

NABU revives dormant Burisma case, drafting a notice of suspicion against founder Mykola Zlochevsky and asking the special anticorruption prosecutor of Ukraine to bring Zlochevsky in for questioning.

Validation: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/nabu-prepares-draft-notice-of-suspicion-on-episode-involving-ex-minister-zlochevsky.html

March 28, 2019

Ukraine General Prosecutor’s office under the authority of Deputy Prosecutor General Kulyk announces it has opened a new money laundering investigation against Burisma founder Zlochevsky.

Validation: https://www.scribd.com/document/429942801/March282019NoticeofSuspicionZolchevskyBurisma

May 2, 2019:

Ukraine embassy in Washington issues statement confirming that in spring 2016 the DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa sought the embassy’s help seeking dirt on Donald Trump and Paul Manafort and asking for Ukraine’s president to meet with an investigative reporter working on the issue.

Validation: https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/441892-ukrainian-embassy-confirms-dnc-contractor-solicited-trump-dirt-in-2016

Text of statement: https://www.scribd.com/document/432699412/Ukraine-Chaly-Statement-on-Chalupa-042519

May 16, 2019:

Artem Sytnyk, head of Ukraine’s National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU), confirms investigations remain open against Burisma and its founder Zlochevsky.

Validation: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/sytnyk-nabu-has-not-closed-cases-related-to-zlochevsky.html

FBI’s vetting of informants like Christopher Steele slammed by inspector general

Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz.

The former British spy Christopher Steele and his now infamous Russia collusion dossier became a powerful reminder that the FBI often relies on confidential human sources, or informants, to make cases. And investigations are only as good as the information fed to agents.

It turns out, according to a stinging new report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, that the FBI has done a poor job over the last decade vetting informants for their credibility and reliability and documenting “red flags” when warranted.

Horowitz rebuked the bureau in a report released this week for failing to follow Justice Department procedures in vetting informants and allowing for a lengthy backlog of required validation reports about the reliability and credibility of long-term confidential human sources (CHS).

The internal watchdog found “significant weaknesses,” including inadequate resources dedicated inside the FBI to vet informants, artificial limits on long-term reviews that did not consider the full five years of work of an informant and a poorly designed electronic records system.

“These factors increased the likelihood that the FBI has not adequately mitigated the risks associated with long-term CHSs, including the risks posed by overly familiar and non-objective handling agents and CHS relationships,” Horowitz warned.

The most troubling revelation in the report, however, may be that some of the FBI analysts used to vet informants complained they were “discouraged from documenting conclusions and recommendations” about an informant’s credibility or reliability.

One analyst, for instance, reported being told not to document a request to polygraph a suspect informant. And multiple FBI officials admitted efforts to keep the validation reports of informants void of derogatory information because FBI “field office do not want negative information documented” that could aid defense lawyers or stop informants from becoming government witnesses at trial.

Such behavior “may have increased the likelihood that red flags or anomalies were omitted” about long-term informants, the 63-page report warned. Such concerns were widely held.

For instance, one member of a joint Justice Department-FBI committee known as the HSRC that approved long-term informants’ service reported being “deeply concerned that the limited scope of the long-term validation review may potentially be omitting important information or critical red flags.”

The report also included one very important piece on the FBI’s reliance on informants: it showed the bureau spends an average of about $42 million a year on them.

This IG report did not mention Steele, arguably the FBI’s most famous informant of recent years.

But Horowitz is expected to release a massive report next month on possible failures and abuses by the FBI in the Russia collusion investigation, including efforts to use Steele’s dossier to help secure a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser.

The FBI’s reliance on Steele has raised significant public concerns, including that he was being paid to do his work to find dirt on Trump by the opposition research firm for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, had expressed a bias against Trump and had been leaking to the news media while working for the FBI. His source relationship was ended because of the latter concern.

In addition, an FBI spreadsheet created to validate Steele’s allegations against Trump found most of the information in the dossier to be unconfirmed, debunked or simply open source information found on the Internet, sources have told me.

The latest IG report shows the Steele episode may ultimately be viewed as part of a larger systemic issue with the FBI’s handling of one of its most important investigative resources: confidential human sources or informants.

Russia case agent Strzok cited for misconduct, security violation and ‘exceptionally poor judgment’ in FBI memos

This summer, ex-FBI agent Peter Strzok filed a lawsuit suggesting his firing was political retribution for having run the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation into the now debunked allegations that Donald Trump and Russia colluded to hijack the 2016 election.

The Justice Department has responded to the lawsuit in a big way, releasing to the court presiding over the civil case Strzok’s official misconduct file that concluded the former FBI supervisor exhibited “a gross lack of professionalism and exceptionally poor judgment.”

It shows the FBI substantiated that Strzok had engaged in dereliction of duty, had committed misconduct through the expression of anti-Trump bias on his official FBI phone and committed security violations by performing official government work on personal email.

The records show one official recommended termination, and another recommended suspension for 60 days without pay. The bureau leadership chose the more severe of the two penalties, terminating Strzok last year.

The dereliction of duty citation involved Strzok’s failure, according to the FBI, to quickly follow up in fall 2016 after the belated discovery of a trove of Hillary Clinton emails on a laptop belonging to former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Strzok was supervising the investigation of whether Clinton’s use of personal email for classified State Department matters created a security risk, and his failure caused an unnecessary delay to evaluate the new evidence just weeks before Election Day, the FBI concluded.

The disciplinary file included testimony from one of Strzok’s colleagues, a fellow agent, about the failure to respond to the discovery of emails. “The crickets I was hearing was making me uncomfortable because something was going to come crashing down,” the agent testified. “….I still to this day don’t understand what the hell went wrong.”

The agent testified he feared “somebody was not acting appropriately, somebody was trying to bury this” discovery of new Clinton email evidence, the files show.

Strzok offered a bevy of excuses for his inaction, including he was busy working the Trump-Russia case at the time. All were rejected. “The investigation reveals that there is no reasonable excuse for the FBI’s delay in following up on this matter,” the disciplinary file concluded.

The FBI also cited Strzok for a violation of security protocols for conducting bureau business on personal email and personal devices, putting his sensitive counterintelligence work at risk of compromise.

“The investigation uncovered numerous occasions in which you used your personal email account,” the final findings concluded.

But the disciplinary letter to Strzok that preceded his firing saved its harshest words for his expression of anti-Trump bias in official government text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page while they were having an affair.

The disciplinary file shows the FBI believed Strzok’s political statements on his official government phone while overseeing the Russia collusion and Clinton email probe may have caused the bureau its most lasting damage.

The letter cited pages of the most egregious texts where Strzok and Page railed against Trump and even suggested they would use their powers to have “an insurance policy” or to “stop him” from becoming president.

“Your excessive, repeated and politically charged text messages, while you were assigned as the lead case agent on the FBI’s two biggest and most politically sensitive investigations in decades, demonstrated a gross lack of professionalism and exceptionally poor judgment,” the FBI wrote Strzok.

“Your misconduct cast a pall over the FBI’s Clinton email and Russia investigations and the work of the Special Counsel. The immeasurable harm done to the reputation of the FBI will not be easily overcome,” the letter added.

Impeachment surprise: How Adam Schiff validated my reporting on Ukraine

I have to thank Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and impeachment maestro. Really, I am grateful.

While the jury is still out on high crimes and misdemeanors, Schiff has managed to produce during the first few weeks of his impeachment hearings a robust body of evidence and testimony that supports all three of the main tenets of my Ukraine columns.

In fact, his witnesses have done more than anyone to affirm the accuracy of my columns and to debunk the false narrative by a dishonest media and their friends inside the federal bureaucracy that my reporting was somehow false conspiracy theories.

The half dozen seminal columns I published for The Hill on Ukraine were already supported by overwhelming documentation (all embedded in the story) and on-the-record interviews captured on video. They made three salient and simple points:

  1. Hunter Biden’s hiring by the Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings, while it was under a corruption investigation, posed the appearance of a conflict of interest for his father. That’s because Vice President Joe Biden oversaw US-Ukraine policy and forced the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor overseeing the case.
  2. Ukraine officials had an uneasy relationship with our embassy in Kiev because State Department officials exerted pressure on Ukraine prosecutors to drop certain cases against activists, including one group partly funded by George Soros. 
  3. There were efforts around Ukraine in 2016 to influence the US election, that included a request from a DNC contractor for dirt on Manafort, an OpEd from Ukraine’s US ambassador slamming Trump and the release of law enforcement evidence by Ukrainian officials that a Ukraine court concluded was an improper interference in the US election.

All three of these points have since been validated by the sworn testimony of Schiff’s witnesses this month, starting with the Bidens.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified he believed the Burisma-Bidens dynamic created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that State officials viewed Burisma as having a corrupt relationship.

Kent testified State’s sentiments were so strong that he personally intervened in 2016 to stop a joint project between one of his department’s agencies and Burisma. When asked why, he answered: “Burisma had a poor reputation in the business, and I didn’t think it was appropriate for the U.S. Government to be co-sponsoring something with a company that had a bad reputation.”

State officials also testified they tried to raise the issue of an apparent conflict of interest with Biden’s office back in 2015, but were rebuffed.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was asked last week if she shared Kent’s assessment about Joe Biden and Burisma. She answered clearly: “I think that it could raise the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Federal officials are required to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, something State officials saw with Joe Biden. This obligation doesn’t rely on whether Biden forced the firing of the Ukraine prosecutor for good or bad reasons. The appearance issue existed even before Biden forced the firing,

For weeks, media have claimed my Biden column was a debunked “conspiracy theory” and no one saw anything wrong. Now we know the very people working on Ukraine policy below Joe Biden in the State Department saw the appearance of a conflict, long before I reported it. And they were so concerned about Burisma’s corruption reputation that they took official actions to distance the U.S. from the firm that hired Hunter Biden.

The second point I made in my columns was there was significant evidence that some officials tied to Ukraine tried or did influence the 2016 election. That evidence included:

  • an OpEd written by the Ukrainian ambassador to Washington in August 2016 slamming Donald Trump
  • the release of sensitive law enforcement information by two Ukrainian government officials against Paul Manafort that forced the Trump campaign chairman to resign in 2016. A Ukrainian court later ruled the two officials’ actions were an improper effort by Ukraine to interference in the 2016 election. That ruling was set aside recently, not on the merits of the interference but on a jurisdictional technicality.
  • A solicitation by a Democratic National Committee contractor seeking dirt from the Ukraine embassy on Trump and Manafort in spring 2016. The Ukrainian embassy confirms the solicitation, and says it was rebuffed,.

Schiff’s witnesses confirmed they knew about those issues in 2016 and 2017 but took no formal action. Yovanovitch was among those who said she didn’t raise any alarms, drawing this rebuke from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

“In 2016, when we know that the majority of Ukrainian politicians want Clinton to win because it was said by a member of parliament when the ambassador to the United States from Ukraine writes an op-ed criticizing then-Candidate Trump, when Mr. Avakov calls Candidate Trump all kinds of names, nobody goes and talks to them and tells them to knock it off.”

Such inaction on perceived election interference is a fair issue for the American public to consider, which is why I raised it in the first place.

The third point of my columns was that there was long-standing friction between the U.S. embassy in Kiev and Ukraine prosecutors, friction that threatened to set back the fight against corruption in the old Soviet bloc country.

Former Ukraine prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko highlighted this issue in a video-recorded interview with me in March when he claimed Yovanovitch gave him in 2016 a list of names of Ukrainian nationals she did not want to see prosecuted.

Yovanovitch adamantly denied this and I quoted both sides in my original story. Then a Ukrainian news outlet claimed Lutsenko recanted his claims about the list.

That is not true. Both the New York Times and I have interviewed him since, and Lutsenko reaffirms he believes Yovanovitch pressured him not to pursue certain Ukrainian individuals she named during the meeting.

So at best, the issue is a classic he-said, she-said. And I gave both sides their due say in my original stories, like good journalists should do,

But then Schiff’s witnesses, particularly Kent, added to the narrative. They directly acknowledged at least four of the names Lutsenko gave me in the March interview were the subject of a pressure campaign by the U.S. embassy in Kiev. They included:

  • a nonprofit Ukrainian group partly funded by George Soros and the US embassy called the AntiCorruption Action Centre.
  • a Ukraine parliamentary member named Sergey Leschenko who helped release the Manafort documents
  • a senior law enforcement official named Artem Sytnyk, who also helped release the Manafort documents
  • a journalist named Vitali Shabunin, who helped found the above-mentioned nonprofit.

Kent acknowledged he signed an April 2016 letter asking Ukrainian prosecutors to stand down an investigation against the anti-corruption group, and his explanations about the pressure the embassy applied on the Shabunin and Sytnyk probes are worth reading.

“As a matter of conversation that U.S officials had with Ukrainian officials in sharing our concern about the direction of governance and the approach, harassment of civil society activists, including Mr. Shabunin, was one of the issues we raised,” Kent testified.

As for Sytnyk, the head of the NABU anticorruption police, Kent stated: “We warned both Lutsenko and others that efforts to destroy NABU as an organization, including opening up investigations of Sytnyk, threatened to unravel a key component of our anti-corruption cooperation.”

Yovanovitch for her part stood by her denial of the do-not-prosecute list. But even she admitted she was, in her own words, “pushing” the Ukraine prosecutors. “I advocated the U.S. position that the rule of law should prevail and Ukrainian law enforcement, prosecutors and judges should stop wielding their power selectively as a political weapon against their adversaries, and start dealing with all consistently and according to the law.”

In another words, she pushed back on certain investigations, just like Kent had testified.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether what transpired was a formal list like Lutsenko claimed or a pressure campaign on specific cases like Kent testified. The issue of public interest is that the situation was dysfunctional: Ukraine prosecutors felt bullied by the embassy, and US officials were unhappy with cases against certain figures.

So the next time you hear my stories were debunked, faulty or wrong (without anyone citing specific facts that were wrong), keep this in mind: Adam Schiff’s witnesses corroborated what I reported.

And that makes the attacks on my columns misleading, unethical and undemocratic. Reporters should be allowed to raise issues of public importance like conflict appearances, election interference and dysfunctional foreign relations without being taken to the woodshed of censorship and false shame.

And public officials like Biden, and Yovanovitch, shouldn’t cry victimization just because a journalist raised a legitimate debate over policy issues.

The 15 essential questions for Marie Yovanovitch, America’s former ambassador to Ukraine

The next big witness for the House Democrats’ impeachment hearings is Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled last spring at President Trump’s insistence.

It is unclear what firsthand knowledge she will offer about the core allegation of this impeachment: that Trump delayed foreign aid assistance to Ukraine in hopes of getting an investigation of Joe Biden and Democrats started.

Nonetheless, she did deal with the Ukrainians going back to the summer of 2016 and likely will be an important fact witness.   

After nearly two years of reporting on Ukraine issues, here are 15 questions I think could be most illuminating to every day Americans if the ambassador answered them.

  1. Ambassador Yovanovitch, at any time while you served in Ukraine did any officials in Kiev ever express concern to you that President Trump might be withholding foreign aid assistance to get political investigations started? Did President Trump ever ask you as America’s top representative in Kiev to pressure Ukrainians to start an investigation about Burisma Holdings or the Bidens?
  2. What was the Ukrainians’ perception of President Trump after he allowed lethal aid to go to Ukraine in 2018?
  3.  In the spring and summer of 2019, did you ever become aware of any U.S. intelligence or U.S. treasury concerns raised about incoming Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his affiliation or proximity to certain oligarchs? Did any of those concerns involve what the IMF might do if a certain oligarch who supported Zelensky returned to power and regained influence over Ukraine’s national bank?
  4. Back in May 2018, then-House Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggesting you might have made comments unflattering or unsupportive of the president and should be recalled. Setting aside that Sessions is a Republican and might even have donors interested in Ukraine policy, were you ever questioned about his concerns? At any time have you or your embassy staff made comments that could be viewed as unsupportive or critical of President Trump and his policies?
  5. John Solomon reported at The Hill and your colleagues have since confirmed in testimony that the State Department helped fund a nonprofit called the Anti-Corruption Action Centre of Ukraine that also was funded by George Soros’ main charity. That nonprofit, also known as AnTac, was identified in a 2014 Soros foundation strategy document as critical to reshaping Ukraine to Mr. Soros’ vision. Can you explain what role your embassy played in funding this group and why State funds would flow to it? And did any one consider the perception of mingling tax dollars with those donated by Soros, a liberal ideologue who spent millions in 2016 trying to elect Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump?
  6. In March 2019, Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko gave an on-the-record, videotaped interview to The Hill alleging that during a 2016 meeting you discussed a list of names of Ukrainian nationals and groups you did not want to see Ukrainian prosecutors target. Your supporters have since suggested he recanted that story. Did you or your staff ever do anything to confirm he had recanted or changed his story, such as talk to him, or did you just rely on press reports?
  7. Now that both the New York Times and The Hill have confirmed that Lutsenko stands by his account and has not recanted, how do you respond to his concerns? And setting aide the use of the word “list,” is it possible that during that 2016 meeting with Mr. Lutsenko you discussed the names of certain Ukrainians you did not want to see prosecuted, investigated or harassed?
  8. Your colleagues, in particular Mr. George Kent, have confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that the U.S. embassy in Kiev did, in fact, exert pressure on the Ukrainian prosecutors office not to prosecute certain Ukrainian activists and officials. These efforts included a letter Mr. Kent signed urging Ukrainian prosecutors to back off an investigation of the aforementioned group AnTac as well as engaged in conversations about certain Ukrainians like Parliamentary member Sergey Leschenko, journalist Vitali Shabunin and NABU director Artem Sytnyk. Why was the US. Embassy involved in exerting such pressure and did any of these actions run afoul of the Geneva Convention’s requirement that foreign diplomats avoid becoming involved in the internal affairs of their host country?
  9. On March 5 of this year, you gave a speech in which you called for the replacement of Ukraine’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. That speech occurred in the middle of the Ukrainian presidential election and obviously raised concerns among some Ukrainians of internal interference prohibited by the Geneva Convention. In fact, one of your bosses, Under Secretary David Hale, got questioned about those concerns when he arrived in country a few days later. Why did you think it was appropriate to give advice to Ukrainians on an internal personnel matter and did you consider then or now the potential concerns your comments might raise about meddling in the Ukrainian election or the country’s internal affairs?
  10. If the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States suddenly urged us to fire Attorney General Bill Bar or our FBI director, would you think that was appropriate?
  11. At any time since December 2015, did you or your embassy ever have any contact with Vice President Joe Biden, his office or his son Hunter Biden concerning Burisma Holdings or an investigation into its owner Mykola Zlochevsky?
  12. At any time since you were appointed ambassador to Ukraine, did you or your embassy have any contact with the following Burisma figures: Hunter Biden, Devon Archer, lawyer John Buretta, Blue Star strategies representatives Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano, or former Ukrainian embassy official Andrii Telizhenko?
  13. John Solomon obtained documents showing Burisma representatives were pressuring the State Department in February 2016 to help end the corruption allegations against the company and were invoking Hunter Biden’s name as part of their effort. Did you ever subsequently learn of these contacts and did any one at State — including but not limited to Secretary Kerry, Undersecretary Novelli, Deputy Secretary Blinken or Assistant Secretary Nuland — ever raise Burisma with you?
  14. What was your embassy’s assessment of the corruption allegations around Burisma and why the company may have hired Hunter Biden as a board member in 2014?
  15. In spring 2019 your embassy reportedly began monitoring briefly the social media communications of certain people viewed as supportive of President Trump and gathering analytics about them. Who were those people? Why was this done? Why did it stop? And did anyone in the State Department chain of command ever suggest targeting Americans with State resources might be improper or illegal?

The real Ukraine controversy: an activist U.S. embassy and its adherence to the Geneva Convention

The first time I ever heard the name of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was in early March of this year. It did not come from a Ukrainian or an ally of President Trump. It came from a career diplomat I was interviewing on background on a different story.

The diplomat, as I recall, suggested that Yovanovitch had just caused a commotion in Ukraine a few weeks before that country’s presidential election by calling for the firing of one of the prosecutors aligned with the incumbent president.

The diplomat related that a more senior State official, David Hale, was about  to travel to Ukraine and was prepping to be confronted about Yovanovitch’s comments. I remember the diplomat joking something to the effect of, “we always say that the Geneva Convention is optional for our Kiev staff.”

The Geneva Convention is the UN-backed pact enacted during the Cold War that governs the conduct of foreign diplomats in host countries and protects them against retribution. But it strictly mandates that foreign diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State” that hosts them. You can read the convention’s rules here

I dutifully checked out my source’s story. And sure as day, Yovanovitch did give a speech on March 5, 2019 calling for Ukraine’s special anticorruption prosecutor to be removed. You can read that here.

And the Ukraine media was abuzz that she had done so. And yes, Under Secretary of State Hale, got peppered with questions upon arriving in Kiev, specifically about whether Yovanovitch’s comments violated the international rule that foreign diplomats avoid becoming involved in the internal affairs and elections of their host country.

Hale dutifully defended Yovanovitch with these careful words. “Well, Ambassador Yovanovitch represents the President of the United States here in Ukraine, and America stands behind her statements.  And I don’t see any value in my own elaboration on what they may or may not have meant. They meant what she said.” You can read his comments here.

Up to that point, I had focused months of reporting on Ukraine on the U.S. government’s relationship with a Ukraine nonprofit called the AntiCorruption Action Centre, which was jointly funded by liberal megadonor George Soros’ charity and the State Department. I even sent a list of questions to that nonprofit all the way back in October 2018. It never answered.

Given that Soros spent millions trying to elect Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump in 2016, I thought it was a legitimate public policy question to ask whether a State Department that is supposed to be politically neutral should be in joint business with a partisan figure’s nonprofit entity.

State officials confirmed that Soros’ foundation and the U.S. embassy jointly funded the AntiCorruption Action Centre, and that Soros’ vocal role in Ukraine as an anticorruption voice afforded him unique access to the State Department, including in 2016 to the top official on Ukraine policy, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. (That access was confirmed in documents later released under FOIA to Citizens United.)

Soros’ representatives separately confirmed to me that the Anti-Corruption Action Centre was the leading tip of the spear for a strategy Team Soros devised in 2014 to fight corruption in Ukraine and that might open the door for his possible business investment of $1 billion. You can read the Ukraine strategy document here and Soros’ plan to invest $1 billion in Ukraine here.

After being tipped to the current Yovanovitch furor in Ukraine, I was alerted to an earlier controversy involving the same U.S. ambassador.  It turns out a senior member of Congress had in spring 2018 wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleging the ambassador had made anti-Trump comments and suggesting she be recalled. I confirmed the incident with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions and got a copy of his letter, which you can read here. Yovanovitch denies any such disloyalty to Trump.

Nonetheless, I had a career diplomat and a Republican lawmaker raising similar concerns. So I turned back to the sources I had developed starting in 2018 on Ukraine and began to dig further.

I learned that Ukrainian officials, particularly the country’s prosecutors, viewed Yovanovitch as the embodiment of an activist U.S. embassy in Kiev that ruffled feathers by meddling in internal law enforcement cases inside the country.

My sources told me specifically that the U.S. embassy had pressured the Ukraine prosecutors in 2016 to drop or avoid pursuing several cases, including one involving the Soros-backed AntiCorruption Action Centre and two cases involving Ukraine officials who criticized Donald Trump and his campaign manager Paul Manafort.

To back up their story, my sources provided me a letter then-embassy official George Kent wrote proving it happened. State officials authenticated the letter. And Kent recently acknowledged in this testimony he signed that letter. You can read the letter here.

With the help of a Ukrainian American intermediary and the Ukraine general prosecutor’s press office, I then secured an interview in mid-March 2016 with Ukraine’s then top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko. In the interview that was videotaped and released for the whole world to see, Lutsenko alleged that in his first meeting in 2016 with Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador conveyed the names of several Ukrainians she did not want to see investigated and prosecuted. He called it, colloquially, a “do not prosecute list.”

The State Department denied such as list, calling it a fantasy, and I quoted that fair comment in my original stories. But before I published, I held the Lutsenko interview for a few days to do more reporting. State arranged for me to talk to a senior official about the Lutsenko-embassy relationship.

I provided the names that Lutsenko claimed had been cited by the embassy. That senior official said he couldn’t speak to what transpired in the specific meeting between Yovanovitch and Lutsenko. But that official then provided me this surprising confirmation: “I can confirm to you that at least some of those names are names that U.S. embassy Kiev raised with the General Prosecutor because we were concerned about retribution and unfair treatment of Ukrainians viewed as favorable to the United States.”

In other words, State was confirming its own embassy had engaged in pressure on Ukrainian prosecutors to drop certain law enforcement cases, just as Lutsenko and other Ukrainian officials had alleged.

When I asked that State official whether this was kosher with the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on internal interference, he answered: “Kiev in recent years has been a bit more activist and autonomous than other embassies.”

More recently, George Kent, the embassy’s charge d’affaires in 2016 and now a deputy assistant secretary of state, confirmed in impeachment testimony that he personally signed the April 2016 letter demanding Ukraine drop the case against the Anti-Corruption Action Centre.

He also testified he was aware of pressure the U.S. embassy also applied on Ukraine prosecutors to drop investigations against a journalist named Vitali Shabunin, a parliamentary member named Sergey Leschenko and a senior law enforcement official named Artem Sytnyk.

Shabunin helped for the AntiCorruption Action Centre that Soros funded, and Leschenko and Sytnyk were criticized by a Ukrainian court for interfering in the 2016 US election by improperly releasing or publicizing secret evidence in an ongoing case against Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

It’s worth letting Kent’s testimony speak for itself. “As a matter of conversation that U.S officials had with Ukrainian officials in sharing our concern about the direction of governance and the approach, harassment of civil society activists, including Mr. Shabunin, was one of the issues we raised,” Kent testified.

As for Sytnyk, the head of the NABU anticorruption police, Kent addded: “We warned both Lutsenko and others that efforts to destroy NABU as an organization, including opening up investigations of Sytnyk, threatened to unravel a key component of our anti-corruption cooperation.”

As the story of the U.S. embassy’s pressure spread, a new controversy erupted. A Ukrainian news outlet claimed Lutsenko recanted his claim about the “do-not-prosecute” list. I called Lutsenko and he denied recanting or even changing his story. He gave me this very detailed response standing by his statements.

But American officials and news media eager to discredit my reporting piled on, many quoting the Ukrainian outlet without ever contacting Lutsenko to see if it was true. One of the American outlets that did contact Lutsenko, the New York Times, belatedly disclosed today that Lutsenko told it, like he told me, that he stood by his allegation that the ambassador had provided him names of people and groups she did not want to be targeted by prosecutors. You can read that here.

It is neither a conspiracy theory nor a debunked or retracted story. U.S. embassy officials DID apply pressure to try to stop Ukrainian prosecutors from pursuing certain cases.

The U.S. diplomats saw no problem in their actions, believing that it served the American interest in combating Ukrainian corruption. The Ukrainians viewed it far differently as an improper intervention in the internal affairs of their country that was forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

That controversy is neither contrived, nor trivial, and it predated any reporting that I conducted. And it remains an issue that will need to be resolved if the Ukraine and U.S. are to have a more fruitful alliance moving forward.

Testimony bombshell: Obama administration tried to partner with Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian gas firm but was blocked over corruption concerns

A State Department official who served in the U.S. embassy in Kiev told Congress that the Obama administration tried in 2016 to partner with the Ukrainian gas firm that employed Hunter Biden but the project was blocked over corruption concerns.

George Kent, the former charge d’affair at the Kiev embassy, said in testimony released Thursday that the State Department’s main foreign aid agency, known as USAID, planned to co-sponsor a clean energy project with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas firm that employed Hunter Biden as a board member.

At the time of the proposed project, Burisma was under investigation in Ukraine for alleged corruption. Those cases were settled in late 2016 and early 2017. Burisma contested allegations of corruption but paid a penalty for tax issues.

Kent testified he personally intervened in mid-2016 to stop USAID’s joint project with Burisma because American officials believed the corruption allegations against the gas firm raised concern.

“There apparently was an effort for Burisma to help cosponsor, I guess, a contest that USAID was sponsoring related to clean energy. And when I heard about it I asked USAID to stop that sponsorship,” Kent told lawmakers.

When asked why he intervened, he answered: “”Because Burisma had a poor reputation in the business, and I didn’t think it was appropriate for the U.S. Government to be co-sponsoring something with a company that had a bad reputation.”

Kent’s testimony confirms earlier text messages I reported on in September. Those text messages show that Devon Archer — Hunter Biden’s business associate and fellow board member on Burisma — boasted to an American lawyer in December 2015 that the pair was seeking to do a project with USAID.

At the time of the text, the New York Times had just reported that Burisma was under investigation in Ukraine and that the probe and Hunter Biden’s role in the company was undercutting Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to root out corruption in Ukraine.

Archer’s text to the lawyer suggested he was working on a strategy to counter the “new wave of scrutiny” about Burisma caused by the Times’ story. He stated that he had just met at the State to discuss a new “USAID project the embassy is announcing with us” and that it was “perfect for us to move forward now with momentum.”

Kent’s stoppage of the USAID project adds to a growing body of evidence that Burisma and its corruption issues were causing heartburn inside the State Department during the end of Joe Biden’s tenure as Vice President.

Another State official has reportedly testified he tried to warn Biden’s office that the Burisma matter posed a conflict of interest but was turned away by the vice president’s aides.

And internal State memos I obtained this week under FOIA show Hunter Biden and Archer had multiple contacts with Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken in 2015-16, and that Burisma’s own American legal team was lobbying State to help eliminate the corruption allegations against it in Ukraine.

Hunter Biden’s name was specifically invoked as a reason why State officials should assist, the memos show. A month after Burisma’s contact with State, Joe Biden leveraged the threat of withholding U.S. foreign aid to force Ukraine to fire its chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who at the time was overseeing the Burisma probe.

Joe Biden says he forced the firing because he believed Shokin was ineffective, but Shokin says he was told he was fired because the American ice president was unhappy the prosecutor would not drop the Burisma probe.

Also on Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked the State Department to provide them all documents about Hunter Biden’s and Burisma’s contacts by end of this month.

It follows calls earlier in the week by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C,, that there is enough concern about the Burisma case to now warrant an official Senate investigation.

Kent’s newly released testimony also confirmed several other elements of my earlier reporting about Ukraine, including that the U.S. embassy exerted pressure on Ukrainian prosecutors not to pursue certain investigations.

Kent, now a deputy assistant secretary, disputed allegations that former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko made in a Hill.TV interview I conducted last March that former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch gave a formal list of names she did not want to see prosecuted by Ukrainian authorities.

Kent’s denial was identical to the one I published from State when I first aired the Lutsenko interview.

But he confirmed that the U.S. embassy did, in fact, on several occasions exert pressure on Lutsenko’s office about people and groups that the American government did not want to see pursued for investigation or prosecution or harassment.

For instance, Kent acknowledged signing an April 2016 letter that asked the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office to stand down an investigation of several nonprofits that had received U.S. aid, including the AntiCorruption Action Centre of Ukraine, or AnTac.

Kent also confirmed my reporting that AnTac was jointly funded by the State Department and one of liberal megadonor George Soros’ foundations.

Kent also acknowledged the embassy pressured Ukrainian prosecutors about backing off investigations into a top law enforcement official named Artem Sytnyk and a former journalist named Vitali Shabunin.

“As a matter of conversation that U.S officials had with Ukrainian officials in sharing our concern about the direction of governance and the approach, harassment of civil society activists, including Mr. Shabunin, was one of the issues we raised,” Kent testified.

As for Sytnyk, the head of the NABU anticorruption police, Kent stated: “We warned both Lutsenko and others that efforts to destroy NABU as an organization, including opening up investigations of Sytnyk, threatened to unravel a key component of our anti-corruption cooperation.”

AnTac, Shabunin and Sytnyk were all names that Lutsenko told me had been the subject of U.S. pressure on his office.

So after weeks of Democrats and their media allies suggesting it was a “conspiracy theory” that the U.S. embassy had pressured Ukrainian authorities not to pursue certain investigations, Kent confirmed it.

Of course I knew it was true all along because before I ever aired Lutsenko’s interview, I interviewed a senior State official who confirmed the embassy had engaged in such pressure. Now it’s time for the rest of the media to catch up.

Donald Trump’s Berlin Wall moment? A Reagan-sized opportunity for Middle East stability

Last month Donald Trump reset the strategic landscape in the Middle East, withdrawing U.S. troops from a lengthy war in Syria while managing to eliminate ISIS’s top leader.

The killing of the most wanted terrorist in the world, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, came within a few weeks of Trump’s brokering a deal with Turkey that ended months of dead end negotiations on a so-called “safe zone.”

Those events have significantly advanced U.S. interests in the Middle East, a chess play ripped from the pages of Ronald Reagan’s peace-through-strength manual. They also could open the door to several regional deals that return refugees home and enhance stability in the region — including a new, more comprehensive, and tougher nuclear deal with Iran.

But you would have a hard time getting the whole picture from news coverage, which has been preoccupied with the U.S. “sellout” of the Kurds and how Trump’s statement on Baghdadi compared with Obama’s on Osama Bin Laden. Or the differences in the White House photos.

To appreciate the opportunity that has opened up for America in the Middle East, one must first examine the facts and correct the misleading narrative.

Trump did not “sell out” the Syrian Kurds, who have been fantastic partners in the fight against ISIS, and will continue to be. The U.S. never had a formal treaty with the Kurds. Neither President Obama nor Trump ever committed to protect the Kurds against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad. And Congress never approved a formal alliance. 

That’s a fact that gets omitted by the neo-conservative policymakers and military industrial complex cheerleaders who have dominated the airwaves the last few weeks.

Second, our partnership with the Syrian Kurds has not been a one-way street: U.S. troops helped the Kurds beat back ISIS from their towns and villages. Even with the US troop withdrawal, cooperation between America and the Kurds continues, as the successful Al Baghdadi raid demonstrated.  And the Syrian Kurds, no fools at all, always kept a line to Damascus, which left them able to cut their own deal after Trump withdrew troops. 

Third, Turkey is a formal ally of the United States, bound to us by the essential military alliance known as NATO. In fairness, Turkey is a troublesome ally for sure, and one with whom we disagree about the Syrian Kurds. And there is compelling evidence Turkey has not complied with recent ceasefires.

It might be for both sides to ask how U.S. interests are served by sanctioning Turkey, and keeping troops in Syria, because we disagree with Erdogan about the Kurds. But where ever that debate ends, the United States chose to be bound to Turkey in ways it was never to the Kurds.    

With those facts in mind, let’s examine the opportunities on the horizon.

Trump currently appears to be testing Russia’s and Turkey’s commitment to degrade and defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups remaining in Syria, while maintaining the new but fragile peace deal with the Kurds. 

There are still more than 10,000 jihadists in northwest Syria, where Al Baghdadi was hiding.  If Vladimir Putin and Erdogan want to risk their blood and treasure to take them out, that could save America lives and money. Why not put Turkey, Russia and Iraq to the test in battling the rest of the terrorists?

With the territorial defeat of the ‘caliphate’ and the killing of Baghdadi, ISIS and other terrorists in Syria are now orphans.  Former backers of various jihadi factions in the Gulf and elsewhere aren’t getting behind these armed thugs any longer.  The money is drying up, and the terrorist dead enders are increasingly isolated in the northwest city of Idlib, which is facing an imminent day of reckoning with Syrian and Russian forces.

If Putin and Erdogan fail to defeat these ISIS and Al Qaeda leftovers, Trump still holds the option to re-deploy U.S. troops, positioned nearby in Iraq and elsewhere to finish the job.

The U.S. can also stop Erdogan if he is tempted to usurp some of those battle-tested jihadists for his own sectarian agenda, as some fear.

Second, Trump is watching closely whether Putin delivers a peace deal between Syria and Turkey.  This is happening, and barely covered in the press.  If Turkey and Syria bury the hatchet, the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey could eventually return to their original homes —  while letting Russia foot the bill for needed security.  This step, while not a done deal, would be monumental toward ending the war, and should be welcomed by the international community.  

Third, many in the U.S. government and outside may see this dynamic as an unacceptable concession to Assad, Iran, and Putin.  But the Trump administration quietly has grabbed some powerful leverage by having U.S. troops secure the lucrative but tattered Syrian oil fields. 

Syrian oil will only increase in value for future negotiations with Putin.  It assures that Assad, and Iran, will continue to be boxed in by U.S. power until there is a Syrian political process that resolves Assad’s future and Iran’s use of Syrian space to threaten Israel.

Fourth, with all these moves Trump has sparked Syria’s neighbors and other regional states to work out their own issues rather than wait for U.S. intervention.  Not all of these countries are ones we like, such as Iran and Syria. But the regional shuttles are flying, and Trump set them in motion.

One such deal occurred this week when the Saudi’s brokered a peace deal between Yemen’s official government and rebels fighting in the civil war in that country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed the deal on Twitter.

Fifth, Trump can continue to count on support from Israel, whose regular bombing of Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria also provides a needed stick.  The U.S. doesn’t just have the armed Kurdish groups as an asset in Syria, we have Israel, America’s closest regional ally, as our partner too.

Sixth, an even bigger prize looms on the horizon: a better nuclear deal with Iran. This goal is important to Israel, as well as our partners in the region and around the world, and it has gained new urgency with Tehran’s announcement this week it has new advanced centrifuges to accelerate uranium enrichment.

There are other reasons why now is the time to move on Iran.  The economic sanctions that Trump imposed on Tehran are having a devastating impact; the IMF projects Iran’s economic growth will contract by a stunning 9.5% this year.  

Likewise, events in the region, especially in Lebanon, where a secular, anti-Iran trend is taking hold, opens the door to more comprehensive peace, which could address Israel’s concerns about the missile and terrorist threat from Hezbollah. 

A carrot and stick approach that gets at the core issue, disarming Hezbollah and supporting reform minded technocratic leaders, would be best to settle Israel’s security needs long-term.  Trump has the rare window to seize the moment with a big deal rather than interim steps like conditioning aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces

Nearby, a new government in Jerusalem,  perhaps absent the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, may be more willing to engage in a fresh approach to Iran.  No one doubts Trump’s commitment to Israel.  This was not the case with the previous administration, and a key reason why the Iran nuclear deal and its peace plans ultimately failed.

Trump and Israel also have allies willing to help bring Iran to the negotiating table.  A weakened Iran is still a proud country, but Putin, who also keeps in contact with Israel, can help. If Russia shows good faith on the Turkey-Syrian front, it could earn that seat at the table with Americans, Europeans, Israelis and Iranians.  

French President Emmanuel Macron is already working the back channels, fashioning a credit lifeline of $15 billion for Iran — if it will engage in a better nuclear deal, help end Yemen’s civil war, and support regional and maritime security in the Persian Gulf. 

Those are a lot of “ifs” … but none much different than when Reagan boldly dared Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Few could imagine in June 1987 the Soviet collapse would so soon follow. But it did.  

Time will tell if the Trump chess game can yield similar historic dividends in the Middle East and open the door to shrinking America’s war swollen budget deficits.  

So far, Trump has maneuvered the complicated pieces —  Russia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran – into a place where peace and security may be closer than ever.  

Now he needs a team that embraces his bold approach to end endless conflict in the Middle East, rather than undercut it with leaks and tired thinking.   

Such a journey begins by eliminating the false narratives that are obscuring the potential breakthroughs in the region.