The Vienna Convention is an “international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations” between independent countries. The treaty provides diplomatic immunity for foreigners operating in a host country. It also establishes a protocol that diplomats living abroad must adhere to. For example, diplomats are not supposed to interfere in the internal affairs of their host country. The treaty, signed in 1961, can be viewed here.
Investigative journalist John Solomon has followed the Russian collusion and the Ukrainian collusion stories closely and over the past few years, he has broken one bombshell story after another. Today, he published a fascinating article about the “activist” tendencies of a fair number of Americans serving in the U.S. Embassy in Kiev in 2016. It seems that they somehow missed the memo about the Vienna Convention.
He starts out with Marie Yovanovitch, who testified behind closed doors several weeks ago before Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry panel. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2016 until she was recalled in May 2019. During her testimony, she told lawmakers she’d been stunned by her early recall. Claims by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani were false and unfounded, she said. She had never acted against President Trump’s interests.
In March, Solomon was interviewing a State Department official for another story when Yovanovitch’s name came up. This diplomat told Solomon that she 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.” He said that a senior official from State was on his way to Ukraine to smooth feathers. The man jokingly said, “We always say that the Vienna Convention is optional for our Kiev staff.”
Solomon looked into it, and found that on March 5, 2019, Yovanovitch had indeed delivered a speech asking for “Ukraine’s special anticorruption prosecutor to be removed.” The speech can be viewed here. Solomon said that the country’s media had been “abuzz” over it.
Solomon had spent months investigating the “U.S. government’s relationship with a Ukraine nonprofit called the AntiCorruption Action Centre (AntAC), which was jointly funded by liberal megadonor George Soros’ charity and the State Department.” According to Solomon:
State officials confirmed that Soros’ foundation and the U.S. embassy jointly funded the AntAC, 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 AntAC 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.
A little digging turned up a letter written by House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions in the spring of 2018 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Yovanovitch “had made anti-Trump comments and he suggested she be recalled.” Sessions gave Solomon a copy of his letter.
After more digging, he 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.” He writes:
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 with 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.
In mid-March, Solomon interviewed Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko. Lutsenko told Solomon that the first time he met with Yovanovitch, she gave him a list (I assume verbally) of Ukrainian officials he was not to investigate or prosecute. He called it a “do not prosecute list.”
Solomon asked the State Department about this and they denied it and said it was a fantasy. He wrote:
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.”
George Kent, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev in 2016, is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. He testified several weeks ago before Schiff’s impeachment inquiry. (He also testified today, but Solomon is referring to his earlier testimony.)
In his testimony, he acknowledged he’d “personally signed the April 2016 letter demanding Ukraine drop the case against the AntAC (referenced above). He admitted 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.
He also told lawmakers, “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.” Regarding Sytnyk, the head of the NABU anticorruption police, Kent said, “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.”
(Note: In early October, Glenn Beck obtained an audiotape of Sytnyk discussing his efforts to help Hillary during the 2016 election. He and Leschenko were responsible for publishing the black ledger which forced Paul Manafort to resign from Trump’s campaign. Sytnyk was convicted for election interference in December 2018 in Kiev. The court ruled that the publication of the “black ledger” documents “led to interference in the electoral processes of the United States in 2016 and harmed the interests of Ukraine as a state.” I posted about this story here.)
At the start of Yovanovitch’s testimony before Schiff’s panel, she read her personal statement. She had written:
I want to categorically state that I have never myself or through others, directly or indirectly, ever directed, suggested, or in any other way asked for any government or government official in Ukraine (or elsewhere) to refrain from investigating or prosecuting actual corruption. As Mr. Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian Prosecutor General has recently acknowledged, the notion that I created or disseminated a “do not prosecute” list is completely false—a story that Mr. Lutsenko, himself, has since retracted.
This was news to me. In March, investigative reporter John Solomon interviewed Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. He told Solomon that there was tension in his relationship with most U.S. Embassy personnel. He said that, during the Obama era, Yovanovitch gave him a list of individuals “he would not be allowed to pursue and then refused to cooperate in an early investigation into the alleged misappropriation of U.S. aid in Ukraine.” This was the “do not prosecute” list which she refers to above. I have not heard that Lutsenko had retracted this allegation. In fact, Solomon referred to this only recently in a different article.
I searched for evidence that Lutsenko had retracted and finally found this in the last paragraph of an ABC Go article.
Around the same time, Lutsenko indicated in an interview with a Russian-language news outlet that his initial account of Yovanovitch giving him a “do-not-prosecute list” was not accurate.
That explanation makes my head spin. They give us an approximate time, they don’t name the news outlet and they say only that his statement was not accurate.
If Lutsenko had truly retracted his statement, we would have heard about it and not from a Russian-language news outlet. The truth is that many officials inside the U.S. Embassy in Kiev were corrupt. They were in the tank for Hillary and now they have to cover their tracks. And this includes then-embassy Charge d’Affaires George Kent.
Solomon addresses the claim that Lutsenko had recanted his story. He wrote:
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 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.