Adapted from The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America, Chapter 1 “All Decided in the Back Room,” Chapter 2 “Revenge Rules the Soul of the Fool,” Chapter 3, Red Erie, and Chapter 5 “Somebody Gave an Order to Bury the Black Ledger”
Today, the U.S. Treasury slapped sanctions on Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker in Ukraine’s parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada, or Rada for short. The press release finally called Derkach what he is, an agent of Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation. Derkach has long-supported pro-Russian parties in the Rada and was a member of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. It is most unusual then, that he has been retweeted by the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
In 2007, Derkach was swept into Ukraine’s legislature along with a majority bloc controlled by the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The mastermind of that campaign was Paul Manafort, Jr. Derkach was no stranger to politics—his father, a former KGB agent, ran the Security Service of Ukraine under pro-Russian president Leonid Kuchma and was implicated in the murder of a dissident journalist.
The Russian Agent
Andriy Derkach’s own connections to Russia’s security services also run deep. He attended the university run by the KGB, the Dzerzhinsky Higher School. It is not a surprise, then that the U.S. Treasury would identify him as a Russian Intelligence Agent. It is unusual that the President of the United States would tweet a theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election the day after Derkach requested an investigation in Ukraine of the same theory.
Predictably, the story begins with Paul Manafort. Manafort continued to advise Trump for three years after Trump’s 2016 win. Russian Intelligence Agent Konstantin Kilimnik called it Manafort’s “cunning plan” increase Hillary Clinton’s negatives in Rust Belt states. While Manafort was in discussions to join the Trump campaign, the Russian government directed the GRU to steal emails from Democratic sources. Six days later, Trump called Manafort to offer him the job. Manafort used the emails to draw attention to Clinton’s violation of State Department regulations by using private server for her email as Secretary of State.
But Manafort would not be on the campaign for the final stretch. In mid-August 2016, The New York Times linked Manafort to the Black Ledger, a group of documents showing that Yanukovych had used bribery and influence campaigns to become President and hold power in Ukraine.
Manafort’s strategy provided a victory. Studies showed that Trump dominated the media atmosphere of the 2016 campaign and that more copy was written about Hilary Clinton’s emails than any other subject during the campaign.
As four separate investigations closed in on Trump, he turned again to Manafort. This time Manafort advised him to go on attack. For three years, Trump and the Republicans targeted Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the FBI, the FISA warrants, the Steele Dossier and the conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. Trump agreed. The plan was to claim the Black Ledger was false and that its dissemination to reporters was a Ukrainian plot to interfere in the U.S. elections.
In July 2017, the Trump Administration began its counter-attack on the four investigations from Sarah Sanders’ podium in the White House Press Room. On July 10th she attacked the Democrats for accepting help from the Ukrainians. Days later, on July 16th, the President’s lawyer, Jay Seuklow went on CNN to push back on reports of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort and Russian agents. He too claimed Ukraine had “interfered” in the 2016 election. Social media accounts associated with Russia’s troll army, the Internet Research Agency, like @USA_Gunslinger, began promoting the theory.
This Trump disinformation operation had Manafort’s fingerprints all over it. Like all the others that would follow it, it included a Ukrainian element. In July 2017, that element was Andriy Derkach.
From his from his seat in the Rada Derkach began pushing the Trump line regarding election interference. On July 24, he wrote to Prosecutor General Lutsenko, asking that he open an investigation into “illegal interference in the election of President of the United States organized by a criminal organization.” That organization, he claimed, was the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, which had hosted a press conference in August 2016 about the Black Ledger, showing Manafort’s name in the book.
That same evening Hannity had Ukraine on the mind. He made conspiratorial asides about Ukrainian interference to nearly every guest. The next day, President Trump, reacting to a Hannity show the night before laced with unsupported asides about Ukrainian interference, tweeted: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – “quietly working to boost Clinton.” So where is the investigation A.G.” and tagged Fox News host Sean Hannity.”
While Sessions did not open an investigation, Ukraine did, without hesitation on August 2. It was no surprise the Poroshenko government was more on board with an investigation of alleged Ukrainian interference in 2016 than Trump’s own Attorney General. In June, President Poroshenko and his Prosecutor General, Yuiry Lutsenko met Rudy in Kyiv. Since then, the prosecution of the Black Ledger cases had come under Lutsenko’s control, Poroshenko had met in the Oval Office with Trump, Ukraine had signed a deal to buy U.S. Coal and the U.S. had agreed to sell Ukraine Javelin missiles all in the space of two months.
This was not the last appearance of Andriy Derkach. In between today’s sanctions and July 2017, he gave a revelatory interview. At the height of the impeachment investigation, Derkach explained to Interfax-Ukraine that “since 2016, Ukraine has been at the center of domestic politics and the political confrontation of its strategic partner, the United States.” The result was a “series of international scandals and corruption, in which some representatives of law enforcement and diplomatic bodies of the two countries are mired.” On all of that Derkach was right. The story of Russian interference, really about recovery of Putin’s hold on Ukraine, was really just that. A scandal about Ukraine.
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