DARIA KALENIUK: Okay, so, should I read it first? And then I could …
[TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]
ILYA MARRITZ: Yeah, do you want to read it?
KALENIUK: It’s fascinating.
MARRITZ: Yeah — read it in peace. And you know what? While you read it, I'll read it. We can both be better informed. I might have to read it twice.
ILYA MARRITZ: Dateline: Kiev. Wednesday, September 25, just after 5 PM local time.
I’m at the offices of the not-for-profit Anti-Corruption Action Center, ANTAC. I’m with Daria Kaleniuk, ANTAC’s co-founder and Executive Director.
KALENIUK: Ohh! That’s craziness! Craziness.”
MARRITZ: The White House has just released a “transcript” — detailed notes of a call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
KALENIUK: [READING] “I’ll have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and also have Moscow’s Attorney General give you a call and we’ll get to the bottom of it.” [SIGHS]
MARRITZ: On the call, Trump asks Zelensky to, quote, “do us a favor” — investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.
ANTAC EMPLOYEE: … to investigate Joe Biden’s …
MARRITZ: With a bright orange beanbag chair and a staff of mostly young people, ANTAC has the feel of a small startup. Everyone here — not just Daria — is furiously digesting the document.
KALENIUK: Mhm. So is that — is that okay for the President of the United States to have Attorney General of the United States to call President of Ukraine to discuss investigation? Is that okay?
MARRITZ: Well, I'm not a lawyer [KALENIUK LAUGHS] but I believe I believe you are a lawyer!
[ESOTERIC MUSIC BEGINS TO PLAY]
KALENIUK: It is actually very astonishing to me to see that something like that is happening in the United States, from which we are trying to learn how to make democracy. So I'm embarrassed.
MARRITZ: Embarrassed for the United States, I think?
KALENIUK: Yes, I'm embarrassed for the United States. I'm also embarrassed for Ukraine. President Zelensky? I understand that he was in a very tough position. Because it's like, you're a little guy talking to a superpower, and your country depends on this superpower, and your soldiers who are dying every day in war with Russia can stop dying if there will be proper support from the United States.
[STRINGS ENTER THE MUSIC]
MARRITZ: If you google Daria Kaleniuk, one of the first images that comes up is a woman, holding a bullhorn, surrounded by police. Her T-shirt says, “Fuck Corruption.” Today, she’s wearing business attire.
KALENIUK: It is strange, because, you know, we could expect something like that happening in a very authoritarian country, like Russia. But not so from the country which is a role model for us.
MARRITZ: Throughout our hour-long conversation, Kaleniuk maintained a state of outraged disbelief.
MARRITZ: Did you ever think that Ukraine would be at the center of an impeachment proceeding against an American President?
KALENIUK: I would never imagined that.
[MUSIC TRANSITIONS TO TRUMP, INC. THEME]
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Hello, and welcome to Trump, Inc., a podcast from WNYC and ProPublica that digs deep into the business of the Trump administration, I’m Andrea Bernstein in New York. Ilya Marritz is in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, and you’ll be hearing a lot more from him in this episode.
A little about how Ilya happened to be in Kiev, right now. For over a year, the Trump, Inc. crew has been talking about Ukraine — the role it plays for Trump and the people around him.
[GUITAR-DRIVEN MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: He’s taken money from Ukrainian oligarchs. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked there for a decade, and went to prison because of it. Michael Cohen has ties to the country, and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been making appearances in Ukraine for over a decade.
We kept asking ourselves, “Why? What is it about Ukraine?”
So Ilya planned a trip months ago. And, as it turned out, he arrived right after we learned that Ukraine was the country in the mysterious whistleblower report. As the story was breaking wide open, Ilya landed in Kiev.
MARRITZ: [OVER THE AMBIENT NOISE OF THE STREET AND A CAN CLINKING ALONG THE ROAD] So this is Sofiskya Street. Somewhere here is Paul Manafort’s office. [FADES UNDER, BUT THE ECHOING SOUND OF VOICES, AS IF IN A LARGE EMPTY HALL, CAN BE HEARD]
BERNSTEIN: He went there to follow a trail of corruption that started with President Trump’s campaign chief, Paul Manafort, and led to President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
MARRITZ: What I can’t see anywhere are newspapers. Nobody’s reading them. Nobody’s selling them.
[LIGHT CLASSICAL STRING MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: Before we begin, a note. Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian politicians and prosecutors can hollow out the meaning of the words they use: corruption, prosecutor, cover-up, facts. Politicians in Ukraine routinely use prosecutions not as fact-finding missions, but as bludgeons used to destroy opponents — opponents like Daria Kaleniuk’s group, ANTAC. It’s an anti-corruption group supported by the European Union.
[A LONG MOMENT OF MUSIC AS IT FADES OUT]
BERNSTEIN: Rudy Giuliani mentioned ANTAC in an interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN in September that went viral:
RUDY GIULIANI: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden —
CHRIS CUOMO: — and his role with the prosecutor?
GIULIANI: — is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed —
GIULIANI: — dismissed the case against ANTAC.
[THEN, A MONTAGE OF GIULANI SAYING “ANTAC” THREE SEPARATE TIMES]
BERNSTEIN: Kaleniuk told Ilya that her group is being attacked because it’s fighting corruption.
KALENIUK: The reason for that is that [A BREATH] we are actually exposing grand corruption schemes in Ukraine. We are exposing also Western enablers of Ukrainian kleptocrats. We are pain in the ass for many powerful people here. [FADES UNDER]
BERNSTEIN: Kaleniuk has a warning for us about the way her democracy works, and the direction ours is heading in.
[HEAVY PIANO MUSIC PLAYS]
KALENIUK: Well, fingers crossed for American political system. I hope that it will not repeat mistakes of Ukraine.
MARRITZ: Tell me what those mistakes are.
KALENIUK: When president dictates prosecutor general whom to investigate. It is a big mistake. It shouldn’t happen in real democracy.
[A MOMENT FOR MUSIC]
BERNSTEIN: Today on Trump, Inc., how power is brought to bear on investigations into corruption — in Ukraine and the United States — and how the tools we have to fight corruption are themselves being corrupted.
BERNSTEIN: In the summer of 2018, the Mueller investigation was bearing down. Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer, began talking about putting out a, quote, “counter-report.” That never materialized. What did happen, we know from the whistleblower report, is that Rudy Giuliani began to reach out to current and former Ukrainian prosecutors in late 2018.
Giuliani was developing a counter-narrative to Mueller. Arguing that it was Ukraine that interfered with the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton. While he was at it, Giuliani began encouraging the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden. And they seemed game.
In the middle of this, Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the Mueller report, followed by the report itself.
Days after that, a new Ukrainian president won the election in a landslide: Volodymyr Zelensky.
[A BREATH, MUSIC]
BERNSTEIN: A few months later, Trump short-circuited the normal process and personally ordered a hold on military aid to Ukraine.
And then, one day, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress, Trump got on the phone with President Zelensky. That’s when he asked for that “favor,” looking into the Bidens.
In September, we all learned of the whistleblower complaint, then Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, then we saw the documentation of that Trump-Zelensky phone call, and then we read the complaint. Then, it’s now.
[A BREATH OF QUIET]
BERNSTEIN: There’s one more thing about Zelensky you should know.
MARRITZ: Before he became U.S. President, Trump was famous from TV. Same deal with the new Ukrainian leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. He starred in a popular TV show about a history teacher whose anti-corruption rant goes viral and propels him to the presidency. It’s called Servant of the People.
KALENIUK: I would never imagine if you would tell me a year ago that, you know, in a year a comedian from Servant of the People will become the President of Ukraine.
MARRITZ: A TV show about an average guy who accidentally becomes President.
KALENIUK: Yeah. In the Show there was a history teacher who suddenly become the President of Ukraine. And then the — the actor in this show — actually Zelensky — became the President of Ukraine, with the same name and brand: Servant of the People.
MARRITZ: Zelensky’s real-life political party is also called Servant of the People. Here’s a clip from the show. It’s the moment when Zelensky’s character learns he’s won.
[CLIP FROM SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE STARTS, IN UKRAINIAN]
UNSPECIFIED CHARACTER: Vasily Petrovitch Goloborodka?
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY: [AS VASILY PETROVICH GOLOBORODKA] Yes?
UNSPECIFIED CHARACTER: Good morning, Mr. President.
[CLIP FROM SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE ENDS]
MARRITZ: “Good morning, Mr. President.”
[GAME SHOW-ESQUE MUSIC PLAYS, THEN FADES OUT]
BERNSTEIN: We are going to be talking about our TV President and his TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. But for that story to make sense, we need to start a little earlier in the timeline.
[PLUNKY BASS MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: After communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, state-owned properties like pipelines and factories were put in private hands. Everyone was supposed to benefit. Instead, a small number of businessmen hoarded assets, and became the oligarchs.
Their fortunes depended — and still depend — on keeping control of Ukraine’s natural resources, and building monopolies, and working the government.
MARRITZ: This is — how deep is this?
TRANSLATOR: [LISTENING TO AND TRANSLATING FOR A MILL WORKER] 370 meters.
MARRITZ: Incredible. [FADES UNDER]
BERNSTEIN: One big prize for the oligarchs was the largest steel mill and iron mine in in Ukraine, in a town called Kryvyi Rih. It’s an overnight train ride from Kiev.
MARRITZ: One machine turns solid ore into glowing liquid metal at a temperature of 2,800 hundred degrees Farenheit. Then it’s lifted into a giant cauldron and poured into steel bars.
MARRITZ: This is, like, very frightening.
[EERIE, LOUD MACHINERY SOUNDS PLAY AS NARRATION CONTINUES]
MARRITZ: This place is a good example of how privatization can go wrong. In 2004, the factory was awarded at auction, not to the highest bidder — a multinational company — but to two Ukrainian businessmen who put in a bid of just half as much money. One of them happened to be the son-in-law of the President.
[THE SOUND OF THE MILL PLAYS FOR A BEAT]
MARRITZ: It’s not like Ukrainians were okay with this. The sweetheart deal for this steel plant caused so much outrage, it was later voided and reversed. In 2005, the mill was put up for auction again. This time, an international steel giant offered the most, and won.
BERNSTEIN: The oligarchs were unhappy. They wanted control of the natural resources. And to get that, they had to control the government. And they found just the man to help them do it — a man with decades of experience supporting corrupt leaders across the globe — Paul Manafort.
[INTRIGUE-LADEN MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: At the time — 2005 — 87% of Ukrainians were against the oligarch’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort turned that around.
MARRITZ: There’s a term people here use for Manafort’s profession, [SPEAKING IN URKRAINAN] politechnolog, “political technologist.”
Manafort did polling. He tested messages. He got Yanukovych — who previously spoke coarsely and had assault and robbery convictions in his past — to wear a good suit, get a good haircut, and speak Ukrainian. (Because he was from Eastern Ukraine, he spoke Russian.)
In 2010, the oligarch’s man won the presidency, and Paul Manafort went to work for the new leader.
He secretly lobbied the U.S. government. Yanukovych locked up a political opponent, then Manafort hired a law firm to write a bogus report justifying her prosecution. All the while, Yanukovych was stealing massive amounts of money from the Ukrainian people.
BERNSTEIN: There’s a memo a Manafort associate wrote during this period. It said, “The number of people who admit they are having difficulty feeding their family throughout Ukraine today is stunning.” [PAUSE] The people protested.
In February 2014, Ukrainians overthrew Yanukovych. He fled by helicopter to Russia. That’s when Ukrainians discovered Yanukovych’s other-worldly palace — the house that corruption built. Now it’s a museum.
MARRITZ: Um, I just want to note we have left the city of Kiev.
ANASTASIA LAZO: And that’s the main road to Mezhyhirya. [FADES UNDER AS NARRATION CONTINUES]
MARRITZ: The road from Kiev to Mezhyhirya passes through a tangle of high-rise housing estates and shopping plazas. My guide is Anastasia Lazo, a tour guide based in Kiev.
LAZO: It was really pissing people off, because they were getting late and … [FADES UNDER NARRATION AGAIN]
MARRITZ: She learned English as a teenager in Alaska.
LAZO: That's the funny part. Everyone is laughing, like, “Alaska! It's not even United States!” But, well, it is.
MARRITZ: She also goes by “Stacy.”
LAZO: It’s really complicated to pronounce for the foreigners, so they called me “Stacy.”
MARRITZ: Oh, you became Stacy in Alaska?
LAZO: Of course, of course.
MARRITZ: The grounds of the estate are vast. There’s a nine-hole golf course, a huge garage for Yanukovych’s vintage cars, and a laboratory where, Lazo says, the President’s food was tested to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. After Yanukovych fled Mezhyhirya in 2014, protestors and journalists found a trove of his financial documents dumped in the water. They dried them off in the sauna.
The centerpiece of this Versailles is Yanukovych’s mansion.
I ask Lazo if Paul Manafort has ever been here. She doesn’t know, and tells me I can ask the man who manages the house. But, she says, I should divide whatever he tells me in two.
MARRITZ: I really like that Ukrainian expression.“You can divide that in two,” is that what you say?
LAZO: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. “We divide in it two” means take — some of it can be true but some of it not. But which part is true or not, you never know.
MARRITZ: The interior walls here look like the inside of a log cabin. Almost everything else is pure opulence.
[A SUPERCUT OF THE TOUR BEGINS]
LAZO: There’s the sports complex. … There’s the helipad. … There’s the big, floating restaurant. It looks like a big boat. … There’s the zoo.
MARRITZ: This is all really crazy. … There’s a stuffed lion. Oh, that is — if you care about cats, this is so depressing. … Oh, it’s like an oxygen chamber.
LAZO: Yeah, mhm. And this is some kind of water massage, so it’s like … So this table can cost from 50,000 to 10,000 euros. … Salt usually grows in the natural conditions in the underground caves or somewhere. But guy wanted a salt cave here in his house.
MARRITZ: Oh my god, look at this coat of armor!
LAZO: Exactly! That’s the last room — that will be the room where we get out, so you can see people get out in silence. At the beginning they’re excited, and then, as a result, they’re like, “Okay.”
[A BRIEF XYLOPHONE FLOURISH]
MARRITZ: People do look a little stunned as they emerge into the sunshine.
[PLUCKY STRING MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: By the summer of 2016, Manafort had a new gig. After Yanukovych, he went to work running Donald Trump’s campaign. Here’s an interview he did in that capacity with CBS News.
NORAH O’DONNELL: So, do — to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs.
PAUL MANAFORT: That’s what he said. That’s what I said. That’s obviously — uh, what our position is.
BERNSTEIN: Manafort was the go-to for campaign interviews.
Then, in August 2016, a story broke in the New York Times. It said Manafort was paid $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s political party. Accounts of these payments turned up in a so-called “black ledger.”
We’ll be right back.
BERNSTEIN: We’re back. Three years after the black ledger was made public, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are on a campaign to question its origins, and thus vindicate their since-convicted colleague, Manafort — and to smear their opponents, and undermine the U.S. special prosecutor, Robert Mueller.
To do that, Giuliani spoke to three current and former Ukranian prosecutors: Viktor Shokin, Yuriy Lutsenko, and Nazar Kholodnytsky. So remember those names: Shokin, Lutsenko, Kholodnytsky.
MARRITZ: [AFTER AN UNCLEAR RESPONSE] Oh, cool. Good.
BERNSTEIN: In Kiev, Ilya met with two journalists: Aubrey Belford and Tania Kozyreva.
MARRITZ: You know, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea.
BERNSTEIN: They’ve been reporting on who Giuliani has been working with in Ukraine, and how he got connected with the current and and former prosecutors — and what it means to be a prosecutor in Ukraine.
MARRITZ: How did you get started working together on this story?
AUBREY BELFORD: So the way this started is … You know, I've been based in Kiev for just over a year. I'm an investigative journalist.
BERNSTEIN: This is Aubrey Belford.
BELFORD: And I read this story in The Hill by John Solomon, who is a former AP reporter, and it basically laid out this scandal where Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its Chief Prosecutor because he was investigating a company where his son, Hunter, served on the board, and I thought, “Wow, this looks like a real scandal. I'm going to investigate it.”
And my investigation lasted for about 30 minutes, because the story just fell apart. It soon became pretty apparent that the guy that got fired, Viktor Shokin — basically, everyone wanted him fired. The State Department wanted him fired. European countries wanted him fired. The IMF wanted him fired. Ukrainian anti-corruption activists wanted him fired. People protesting on the streets wanted him fired. And, you know, Joe Biden did put pressure on to get him fired, but to say that he was an anti-corruption fighter is kind of like saying that Danny DeVito won the silver medal for rhythmic gymnastics. It's absurd on its face. This guy was fired for being massively corrupt and for protecting corrupt people.
But when I read it, you know, two things popped into my mind, which was, firstly, this story doesn't check out, and secondly, that this story seems ideally calibrated for US politics down to a T.
BELFORD: And then Giuliani goes on cable news, and he says it. He says, “I'm working on this …”
GIULIANI: [ON FOX NEWS] Yeah. I'm — and I feel sorry about his involvement in the Ukraine thing. Let me tell you, my interest in that … I got information about three or four months ago … [FADES UNDER]
BERNSTEIN: Giuliani was working with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who emigrated from the Soviet Union. Now they live in Florida.
Parnas has worked in real estate, stocks, consumer electronics, with a history of business disputes. In 2017, he was ordered by a federal judge to pay half a million dollars to investors in a movie called “Anatomy of an Assassin.” To date, he hasn’t paid it. He has said he has done nothing wrong in business or politics.
Fruman, the other businessman, has an export business, owns hotels and nightclubs. He has a beach club in Odessa, on the Black Sea, called Mafia Rave.
Recently, Parnas and Fruman started giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes. Their donations to a Republican super PAC in 2018 are the subject of a complaint before the Federal Election Commission.
It was Parnas and Fruman who connected Giuliani with his sources in Ukraine, those prosecutors we mentioned.
BELFORD: We don't know where the initiative came from. What we do know is that, in fall of last year, Parnas and Fruman put Giuliani in touch with the ex-general prosecutor Shokin, and after that put Giuliani in touch and to meet with the Shokin's successor, Yuriy Lutsenko.
MARRITZ: Can you talk about, like, what the general prosecutor is and does in Ukraine? Is it, like, a rough equivalent of our Attorney General in the United States?
BERNSTEIN: Tania Kozyreva.
TANIA KOZYREVA: It is a rough equivalent, with the — yeah — William Barr position, with Attorney General position in U.S.
BELFORD: I think that — I mean, the thing with the prosecutors in Ukraine, you know — prosecutors in Ukraine often act like a protection racket. Prosecutors routinely will bring falsified or drummed-up cases against people and then drop them for money. Prosecutors will also be used by people with political interests, be they politicians or oligarchs, in order to smear people.
And we learn as journalists pretty early on to know which prosecutors you can trust and which ones are, frankly, serial liars, and the guys that Giuliani is relying on have very bad reputations.
MARRITZ: Can you give me any examples?
BELFORD: Well, I mean, Shokin was dismissed by Parliament after a massive public outcry because he was basically strangling off anti-corruption efforts here. Lutsenko is similarly reviled by the public.
MARRITZ: His successor?
BELFORD: Uh-huh. You know, I mean, he's now an ex-prosecutor as well, but —
KOZYREVA: Lutsenko, the general prosecutor, which never had any proper education. You know, he had —
BELFORD: He’s not a lawyer.
MARRITZ: He’s not a lawyer?
KOZYREVA: No. He’s a politician who just got into the office.
BERNSTEIN: Lutsenko has been widely accused of slow-walking corruption cases, and of cooking up cases against innocent parties who are out of favor with Ukraine’s monied class. He denies this.
BELFORD: Giuliani’s third prosecutor source is the special anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky, who has himself been investigated for basically — [FORGETTING THE WORD]
KOZYREVA: [SUGGESTING] Collaborating.
BELFORD: — yeah, collaborating with people under investigation for corruption, telling them what the investigation has and what to anticipate.
BERNSTEIN: Kholodnytsky was recorded tipping off suspects ahead of searches.
All told, Giuliani spoke with these current and former prosecutors — Lutsenko, Kholodnytsky, and Shokin — about a dozen times. Giuliani collected the information they gave him about Trump’s political opponents and passed it along — widely discredited though it was — to the American President.
During one of Giuliani’s meeting, The New York Times reports, Giuliani actually got Trump on the phone.
We reached out to the White House, Giuliani, the three Ukrainian prosecutors, Parnas and Fruman. The only one who commented was Lutsenko, who said, without elaboration, that the whistleblower’s allegations about him “are false.”
Giuliani has been subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee. Among the associations they’re examining: Parnas, Fruman, the three prosecutors, and Giuliani’s business partners in Ukraine.
There WAS someone trying to focus attention on the corruption of Ukrainian prosecutors: the American Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
She called for Kholodnytsky to be fired. She said, “Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases.”
He said the recordings were “out of context.”
In May, Trump abruptly recalled Yovanovitch. There is now no U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
BERNSTEIN: This brings us to the central subject of Giuliani’s campaign — it’s the idea that the Democrats, and some Ukrainians, interfered in the 2016 election, in Hillary Clinton’s favor. They did this, in Giuliani’s version of events, by forging a document: The so-called “black ledger” that showed secret payments from Yanukovych to Paul Manafort.
Remember, Manafort is serving prison time because of the trail of corruptions that Robert Mueller uncovered, beginning with those payments he took from Yanukovych —bank fraud, tax fraud, money-laundering, conspiracy against the United States.
But Giuliani says the black ledger is a fake. Here’s Giuliani in a May 2019 interview on Fox News, pointing a finger at a a man named Serhiy Leshchenko. He’s not the prosecutor, Lutsenko. (Their names are similar)
GIULIANI: … found to be involved in assisting, uh, the Democrats with the 2016 election.
HOST: Okay. So let me ask you —
GIULIANI: A gentleman — I’ll give you his name.
HOST: — your decision not to go — your decision not to go
GIULIANI: Let me — let —
GIULIANI: — let — let me finish! A gentleman by the name of Leshchenko —
HOST: — who supplied a black book that was found to be fraudulent —
GIULIANI: — and never used, because it was found to be fraudulent, totally untrue.
[THEN, TAPE FROM ANOTHER INTERVIEW, WITH LIGHT MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND]
SERHIY LESHCHENKO: Of course it's not fraud. It’s a real document. And of course I'm not an enemy of American government, and I never intervened interfered in American elections.
MARRITZ: In Kiev, I spoke to the man who helped to bring the black ledger to light: Sergi Leshchenko. He’s an investigative journalist and former member of Parliament. I met him in a café in a hip part of the city.
LESHCHENKO: [OVER THE SAME MUSIC] It is part of a conspiracy created by Giuliani — conspiracy theory — which is not based on relevant and real information, because black ledger went through expert eyeses in Ukraine and expert eyes proved that it’s real document. And signatures of people signing this book — real one. But to construct the conspiracy theory, Giuliani was looking for some information which can make this conspiracy possible, and he has decided to spin that it's fake — fake black ledger, and so on.
MARRITZ: Leshchenko is extremely tall, with thick framed glasses. He turns 40 next year.
Leshchenko says, to promote his theory, Rudy Giuliani seized on the fact that an administrative court found Leshchenko acted illegally in publicizing the black ledger. Giuliani ignored the fact that the ruling was overturned on appeal.
LESHCHENKO: [OVER MUSIC] Appeal court stopped the decision in July this year, but it did not stop Giuliani, and he continues saying this fraud.
MARRITZ: By casting doubt on the black ledger, Rudy Giuliani is trying to re-write history. Paul Manafort, in Rudy’s telling, is transformed from a political technologist who profited from a corrupt system and cheated on his taxes into the victim of sinister anti-Trump plot — a plot that eventually led to Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But, for Ukrainians, Manafort’s role, even in the shadows, can’t be erased. Leshchenko recalls something that happened a dozen years ago. He was on assignment as a reporter in Switzerland to cover the corrupt politician Viktor Yanukovych. Paul Manafort was there. Leshchenko made eye contact.
LESHCHENKO: [OVER MUSIC] At that time, Prime Minister Yanukovich travelled to Davos in Switzerland attending World Economic Forum, and the Manafort came to listen, personally. And he appeared there together with Ukrainian tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, who hired Manafort.
MARRITZ: Akhmetov is the patron who engaged Paul Manafort’s services all those years ago, after he lost control of the steel plant.
LESHCHENKO: [OVER MUSIC] And I came to Manafort with the question, “May you record interview with me?” He said, “No interview at all.” And Akhmetov said, “It’s my friend.”
MARRITZ: [OVER MUSIC] What did you know about Paul Manafort at the time?
LESHCHENKO: [OVER MUSIC] It was not a secret that he works for Yanukovich. He was mysterious person. During 10 years, he made no interview at all — zero. But everybody was aware he works for Yanukovich.
MARRITZ: If Paul Manafort’s actions are obscured in America — if he’s seen as a victim — Leshchenko says that will have a chilling effect on the people who are pushing to make Ukraine more democratic, open, and fair.
LESHCHENKO: [OVER MUSIC] Whistle blowers or anti-corruption activists who ready to fight against the system to provide this information now will remember what happened with people like me, or like ANTAC leaders who were under pressure for the last four years. And they will decide twice or triple — triple, should they start this anti-corruption activity? Or, it's better to keep silent, to keep eyes blind, not to make this noise about corruption and just not have criminal problem.
MARRITZ: When we started our interview, Leshchenko was rubbing his eyes, and glancing at his phone. He’s been doing back-to-back news interviews for days. Suddenly, it seems, the world is interested in what he has to say about graft and disinformation.
LESHCHENKO: For me it's another evidence that corruption is not just Ukrainian problem but it's a global problem that happened everywhere in the world. And sometimes corruption, it's — it’s like a butterfly effect. Something happened in Ukraine, and tsunami happened in the US.
MARRITZ: Leshchenko has offered to testify before Congress about his experience with the black ledger, and the disinformation campaign.
[MUSIC BEGINS TO PLAY]
BERNSTEIN: We live in a time of abundant information. Aubrey Belford, the reporter we spoke with earlier, says Giuliani’s Ukrainian partners have been adept at mixing truth with falsehood. The result is facts that are not really factual.
BELFORD: We can say that these claims that have been pushed by Ukrainian prosecutors with Americans are incorrect. They mix truth and falsehood. They are disinformation, and Americans have picked it up and run with them. Whether this is a disinformation campaign that was all designed to turn out exactly as it has, I think is a little bit far-fetched. But what it does show is that this kind of stuff is currency — it’s very potent currency. And, you know, I mean, it worked. They wanted to create a splash with this and they have.
MARRITZ: What’s it like living in a place where, like, nobody knows what's true?
BELFORD: Well, I mean, it's like living in the United States. [LONG PAUSE] You know, this is a part of the world where disinformation is really, like, part of life and you know, it's being exported to the United States. [ANOTHER PAUSE] And, you know, I mean, you guys are going to know what it's like soon enough.
[SILENCE, THEN AN UNDERGROUND BALALAIKA SEXTET PLAYS]
MARRITZ: This episode was produced by Katherine Sullivan and Alice Wilder. Meg Cramer is the executive producer of Trump, Inc. The editors are Eric Umansky, Nick Varchaver, and Robin Fields. The engineer is Jared Paul.
Special thanks this episode to Dora Chomiak and the Chomiak family, Olga Golovina, Troy Etulain, Lydia Tomkiw, the staff at ArcelorMittal, Kryvi Rih, Anastasia “Stacy” Lazo.
Thanks also to John Keefe, Emily Mann, Arwa Gunja, and Emily Botein.
BERNSTEIN: And thank you to ProPublica’s Katie Zavadski. Stephen Engelberg is the Editor-in-Chief of ProPublica. The original music is by Hannis Brown.
[THE AN UNDERGROUND BALALAIKA SEXTET CONTINUES TO PLAY, WITH LOUD, HEARTY SINGING]