Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions Thursday on a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker the agency said had been serving as "an active Russian agent for over a decade."
The lawmaker, Andrii Derkach, is the son of a former KGB officer and also happens to be a key source of disinformation for top allies of Donald Trump who have been actively working to smear Joe Biden with baseless claims of corruption. Chief among those allies are Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
In sanctioning Derkach, the Treasury Department did not name Biden but accused Derkach of releasing "edited audiotapes" and "unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures," according to The New York Times. The Times writes that the sanctions announcement "appears to describe recordings Mr. Derkach released of Mr. Biden talking to Petro O. Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, that Mr. Derkach claimed revealed corruption."
Treasury's assessment of Derkach follows a statement released last month by U.S. intelligence officials that specifically named Derkach as a purveyor of Russian disinformation. "Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party," read the statement from the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, William Evanina. Last month, Trump promoted Derkach's Russian propaganda by retweeting edited phone calls of Biden.
As recently as July, Giuliani defended the disinformation he has been getting from Derkach for his smear campaign against Biden. Derkach, Giuliani told The Washington Post, "doesn't seem pro-Russian to me."
Asked about Derkach's ties to Russia, Giuliani said: "I don't depend on his credibility. I depend on the credibility of his documents."
Wonder how credible Giuliani thinks the U.S. Treasury Department and U.S. intelligence officials are, because both have now explicitly accused Derkach of disseminating Russian disinformation in the form of "edited audiotapes."
In fact, the Post reported in June that Giuliani had been in touch with a network of Ukrainians trafficking in disinformation to advance their own political interests. One of them is former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who is currently in exile in Germany and claims to have made incriminating recordings of Biden.
Onyshchenko told the Russian state news service Sputnik in May that his lawyers had exchanged "hundreds of emails" with Giuliani and his team. In the Sputnik interview, Onyshchenko said he had turned over information about Biden to Giuliani that would be released sometime in the fall.
"Because of the coronavirus, they are waiting," Onyshchenko said in that May interview. "But in September, closer to the elections, they will begin to use them more."
Clearly Onyshchenko didn't anticipate Trump's abysmal handling of the coronavirus still dominating U.S. headlines by September.
But it's not just Giuliani. Onyshchenko told the Post that he was also providing materials on Biden to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is chaired by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. In fact, both Onyshchenko and Derkach told the Post they have shared information with Johnson's committee along with the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Although spokesmen for both Johnson and Grassley have denied receiving materials directly from either Derkach or Onyshchenko, the supposed investigation they have been officially pursuing through their committees smells exactly like the whirl of disinformation Trump sought stir up over the summer when he secretly tried to pressure Ukrainian officials into launching a baseless investigation into Biden. Trump got caught trying to solicit that politically beneficial probe and he was impeached for it, but Johnson and Grassley have effectively picked up where Trump left off. In fact, Johnson overtly stated last month that his investigation "would certainly help" Trump's reelection bid.
Democrats have been sounding alarm bells over Johnson's effort to launder Russian disinformation through his committee since July. The only thing that appears to be hampering Johnson's progress is the fact that his investigation is so bogus, even his GOP colleagues on his own committee have recently begun blocking his subpoena power for the probe.
Perhaps the Treasury Department's sanctioning of Derkach will serve as another nail in that coffin. Or maybe Johnson will just re-up his effort when more Russian disinformation magically appears in the next couple months.