President Trump, in August, promoted information that the U.S. government has increasingly connected to a Russian disinformation campaign in the 2020 election — after his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, worked with the man promoting it. Now the U.S. government says explicitly that the man behind it is a Russian agent.
The Treasury Department on Thursday identified Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach as an “active Russian agent for over a decade” — a label that could lead to more direct penalties. It added that Derkach has “directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.”
“This action is a clear signal to Moscow and its proxies that this activity will not be tolerated,” the Treasury Department said.
But the activity has been more than tolerated by Trump and his allies.
The situation recalls a recent one in which the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about Russia’s 2016 election interference efforts labeled a close ally of then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Konstantin Kilimnik, a “Russian intelligence officer.”
The question with Kilimnik is how explicit was the alliance, and the Senate committee report says we may never know the full truth about Manafort’s contacts with him. That’s because Manafort chose to lie about them (while curiously risking extended jail time) and his communications with Kilimnik remain obscured.
But with Derkach, who is now officially labeled a Russian agent, it’s evident that his efforts have paid dividends — including with what we’ve learned since Derkach was linked to the Russian disinformation campaign by the U.S. government.
Trump in the past month retweeted edited audio of a purported 2016 call between then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The tweet came after Derkach had previously leaked purported recordings of their conversations. U.S. intelligence had indicated even then that the Derkach-linked effort was part of a Russian disinformation campaign — raising serious questions about Trump’s decision to promote it — but the designation from the Treasury Department now makes Derkach’s ties official.
But Trump isn’t the only one who might have questions to answer in light of the new designation. His personal lawyer, Giuliani, worked with Derkach while trying to dig up dirt on Biden and Ukraine. Giuliani met with Derkach twice since late 2019, publicizing Derkach’s claims on his podcast and serving as a conduit between Derkach and a pro-Trump news outlet.
Speaking to The Washington Post earlier in the year, Giuliani confirmed receiving information from Derkach, saying, “Oh my God, yeah.” But he maintained that he has independently sought to confirm it. Giuliani said Derkach “has been very helpful to me.”
Derkach’s allegations, as facilitated by Giuliani, were also promoted on the pro-Trump outlet One America News, which interviewed Derkach as part of a series combating Trump’s impeachment. Its title: “Ukrainian Witnesses Destroy [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff’s Case w/ Rudolph W. Giuliani."
GOP senators who have pushed the unproven conspiracy theories about Biden and Ukraine have also dealt with questions about their reliance upon information from Derkach.
Derkach has said he provided information to Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has pressed the Biden-Ukraine issue, along with other senators of both parties. But the offices of the senators denied receiving anything.
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in July, though, declined to deny receiving information from Derkach. Here’s an exchange from the closed-door hearing:
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-N.Y.): Mr. Chairman, there have been public reports that the minority has received materials from Andrii Derkach, and those materials would not be classified and they would not be prohibited from disclosure. But, at a minimum, I also understand that majority staff has requested of the minority that they be shared with majority staff so that we might evaluate them independently.And so my question, Mr. Chairman, is of the ranking member, whether he is prepared to disclose to the committee whether he has received materials that have been called into question in the public reports from Andrii Derkach and, if so, whether he is prepared to share them with the rest of the committee.SCHIFF: Does the ranking member wish to respond?NUNES: No.
The idea that Russia disinformation and propaganda could filter through U.S. sources is hardly new. During the 2016 election campaign, information from emails hacked by the Russians was disseminated by many U.S. news outlets, including The Washington Post. Since then, though, there has been a reckoning when it comes to such information. Derkach’s ties to Russian intelligence were well-known even before Thursday or the U.S. intelligence report last month, including the fact that his father was a KGB agent and that he studied at a KGB school. Such things would seem to be a red flag for anyone working with him or relying upon his information.
The move from the Trump administration is particularly notable given his own promotion of the type of information Derkach was peddling, along with Giuliani cozying up to Derkach.