Chuck Ross, DCNF
- A memo given to Fusion GPS in May 2016 includes information from Serhiy Leshchenko, a former journalist and Ukrainian lawmaker.
- The memo could shed light on Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr’s testimony where she said Leshchenko was a source for Fusion, which is best known for its work on the Steele dossier.
- The author of the memo suggested Leshchenko could be used as a “conduit” to publicize information about Paul Manafort.
- Leshchenko, who has denied being a witting source for Fusion GPS, is best known for his role in publicizing the “black ledger,” which purported to show illicit payments from Ukrainians to Paul Manafort.
A May 2016 memo provided to Fusion GPS could help settle an enduring mystery about how a Ukrainian lawmaker served as a source for the opposition research firm, which investigated Donald Trump and his campaign on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
The memo, which the Daily Caller News Foundation obtained earlier in 2019, cited information from multiple Ukrainian sources regarding Paul Manafort, the now-former Trump campaign chairman. One of the sources named in the document is Serhiy Leshchenko, a former Ukrainian journalist who served in 2016 as a member of the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.
The memo’s author described meeting with Leshchenko, and suggested he could be used as a potential conduit to publicize information about Manafort.
“It should be noted that Leshchenko regularly advocates on anti-corruption matters and cooperates with various [non-governmental organizations] to that end, so he could potentially be a good conduit for publicizing information,” reads the memo, which was drafted May 12, 2016.
The author also suggested the “potential dissemination of information to or through Leshchenko.”
Republican lawmakers have raised questions about Leshchenko’s possible links to Fusion GPS, citing testimony that former Fusion contractor Nellie Ohr gave Congress in October 2018.
“They were giving me some information that had originated with [Leshchenko] in some way,” testified Ohr, who was a researcher for Fusion GPS from October 2015 through September 2016.
Leshchenko pushed back on Ohr’s testimony by denying that he wittingly provided information to Fusion GPS.
The memo, which is entitled “UKRAINIAN INQUIRIES IN RELATION TO PAUL MANAFORT, MAY 2016,” could explain the gap between Ohr’s testimony and Leshchenko’s insistence that he was not a Fusion GPS source.
“Maybe (or maybe not) people from Fusion GPS represented themselves differently, as political consultants or smth [sic] like that,” he told the DCNF in an October email.
On May 31, 2016, weeks after the memo was drafted, Leshchenko first revealed financial documents — which have been dubbed the “black ledger” — that purported to show off-the-books cash payments made by the Party of Regions, the party that supported former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort was a consultant for Yanukovych from 2004 through 2014, when the notoriously corrupt politician was deposed from office.
Manafort was linked to the black ledger months later. On Aug. 15, 2016, The New York Times broke the story that the documents showed 22 payments totaling $12.7 million to Manafort between 2007 and 2012.
Leshchenko held another press conference to publicize the revelation.
“I believe and understand the basis of these payments are totally against the law — we have the proof from these books,” he said at a press conference in Kyiv on Aug. 19, 2016. “If Mr. Manafort denies any allegations, I think he has to be interrogated into this case and prove his position that he was not involved in any misconduct on the territory of Ukraine.”
Manafort denied receiving the off-the-books payments, but was nonetheless fired from the Trump campaign. He was convicted in the special counsel’s investigation on money laundering and tax charges related to income from his Ukraine work, though the black ledger was not introduced as evidence at his trial.
The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained the memo from a source who has conducted research for Fusion GPS and said the document was provided to the firm. Metadata for the memo shows that it was drafted May 12, 2016.
The memo does not include the name of an author, and there is no reference in the document to Fusion GPS. The DCNF’s source requested that they not be identified and asked that the document not be published in full.
The source provided the name of an author for the memo, but the DCNF could not confirm that the person wrote the documents and is therefore not identifying the person.
It is unclear whether Fusion GPS paid the author of the document. Fusion GPS, which was founded by three former Wall Street Journal reporters, has a handful of full-time staffers and uses contractors in its various investigations.
Fusion paid Nellie Ohr $44,000 for her work as a contractor. The firm paid Christopher Steele, the Trump dossier author, more than $170,000 from April 2016 to November 2016.
It is also unclear whether information provided by Leshchenko was provided to Fusion GPS’s clients, the Clinton campaign and the DNC, or if Leshchenko provided additional information to the author of the memo.
Whether Leshchenko was ever used as a “conduit” as the memo author suggested is also unclear.
Neither Fusion GPS nor its lawyer responded to requests for comment.
The memo also includes a section devoted to “Journalistic inquiries.” The author of the memo says they “consulted either directly or through an intermediary” with journalists who have previously written about Manafort. The author describes a meeting with Denis Bigus, who has reported extensively on corruption issues in Ukraine.
Throughout the Trump impeachment hearings, Republicans have questioned whether Leshchenko and others in the Ukrainian government meddled in U.S. politics in 2016. In addition to his work on the black ledger, GOP lawmakers have cited Ohr’s testimony, as well as Leshchenko’s negative comments about Trump in 2016.
On Aug. 28, 2016, the Financial Times characterized Leshchenko and other Ukrainian government officials as being motivated to “intervene” in the U.S. election in order to stop Trump.
“The prospect of Mr Trump, who has praised Ukraine’s arch-enemy Vladimir Putin, becoming leader of the country’s biggest ally has spurred not just Mr Leshchenko but Kiev’s wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a US election,” the article stated.
Leshchenko was quoted as saying of Trump: “For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.”
He also said a majority of Ukrainian lawmakers were “on Hillary Clinton’s side.”
Leshchenko also met in 2016 with a DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, who met multiple times with officials in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington to collect information on Manafort.
Chalupa told Politico in an article published Jan. 11, 2017, that she met with Ukrainian officials and Ukrainian journalists to collect and disseminate information about Manafort.
Leshchenko told the DCNF that he met Chalupa at least once in 2016 at an event for the Ukrainian diaspora community.
House Republicans have called on Democrats to invite Chalupa and Ohr as witnesses in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
According to the memo provided to Fusion GPS, Leshchenko both claimed that he did not have new information about Manafort, but said he had some documents pertaining to the Trump official.
Leshchenko “expressed great interest in [Manafort] and said that he would be interesting [sic] in receiving information.” The memo also says that Leshchenko “believes that he may have some original documents featuring [Manafort] that were never published and promised to look for them (chasing).”
The memo also says that Leshchenko said that Ukrainian prosecutor’s office might have documents about Manafort that were taken during the looting of former general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka’s residence.
“[M]ost of the documents that were present in Pshonka’s residence were taken by the General Prosecutor’s office around the time of the looting that occurred in the residence, and Leshchenko believes that the Prosecutor’s Office would still have documents relevant to PM (access would clearly be rather complicated),” the memo says.
The reference to documents from Pshonka’s residence could be a reference to the black ledger.
Leshchenko wrote for The Atlantic Council on Sept. 1, 2016 that “records indicating Manafort’s involvement in this case were found in the house of former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka.”
Pshonka fled Ukraine in early 2014 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, which deposed Viktor Yanukovych as president. Manafort had worked since 2004 as a political consultant for Yanukovych and his party, the Party of Regions.
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