A frustrated Ron Wyden, Democratic senator from Oregon, is hoping his third request for documents from the State Department about US policy toward Ukraine will finally do the trick.
Wyden says the department has refused to give Senate Democrats any documents while providing thousands of pages to Senate Republicans to aid their inquiry into the work of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in the Eastern European country.
On Tuesday, Wyden, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a third letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding that he provide documents about the State Department’s Ukraine-related activities under the Obama and Trump administrations. He also is seeking documents on the activities of Rudy Giuliani and several people connected to his back-channel Ukraine campaign that was at the heart of Trump’s impeachment, according to a copy of the letter provided to BuzzFeed News by Wyden’s office.
Wyden’s previous letters were sent to Pompeo in February and May. They followed two requests for records related to the Bidens that were sent to the State Department in November by Republican chairs of the Senate Finance, Homeland Security, and Judiciary committees.
The Republican chairs — Sens. Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Lindsey Graham — have spent months investigating whether Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, abused his power while he was vice president to get Ukraine’s controversial former top prosecutor fired in order to quash investigations into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where Hunter Biden worked. The senators are also looking into claims that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
No evidence has emerged to support the theories, which have been pushed mainly by Republicans, Trump supporters, and right-wing media outlets and have been fueled by dubious information obtained from an eclectic group of discredited Ukrainians, including some with ties to Russia’s security services.
Wyden said in the letter sent on Tuesday that the State Department has produced to the Finance Committee “over 9,000 pages of documents requested by Chairman Grassley on the same matter,” yet Mary Elizabeth Taylor, former assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs (she resigned in June over Trump’s response to protests over police violence), denied his previous requests for information.
“Ms. Taylor justified the Department’s response by saying it ‘must defer to the internal discussion and decisions of the Committee,’” Wyden wrote. He said that as the ranking member of the Finance Committee, “I am unaware of any internal discussion or decisions of the Committee which would in any way restrict the ability of the Department to respond to my request.”
The Republican investigation into the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine began picking up steam in February, after the Senate’s acquittal of Trump in the impeachment trial. At the time, Wyden’s office accused the GOP senators of “turning the Senate into an arm of the president’s political campaign.”
Now, with the election just 119 days away, the Republican probe appears to be turning up the heat, with help from Pompeo’s office. According to Wyden, the State Department will begin producing witnesses for transcribed interviews for the Republicans’ inquiry in late July, possibly without Democrats getting their hands on the documents they are after.
“To further ignore my requests is at best baseless, and at worst a partisan political act,” Wyden said, adding that he wants the materials before July 21.
Wyden has specifically been trying to get records relating to Giuliani and his associates involved in their Ukraine back-channel campaign, including Soviet-born business partners Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, and a slew of other individuals.
But Wyden is now also asking for documents related to Giuliani “and any State Department employee including but not limited to identification of archive conversations between American leaders, such as Vice President Biden, and their counterparts,” and “all records generated by department officials who accessed any materials related to conversations with foreign officials by former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary John Kerry.”
Those requests come after Giuliani told the Washington Post last week that someone at the State Department had aided him in his quest for damaging Biden information by providing him with the dates of phone calls between Biden, Kerry, and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
“It is deeply troubling that the State Department believes that it is appropriate to provide information related to Ukraine to the President’s personal attorney [Giuliani], but that it is not appropriate to provide information related to Ukraine to a ranking member of a Senate Committee engaged in an investigation of Ukraine,” Wyden wrote. “Consequently, it is critical that I understand the substance and propriety of these communications.”
Edited tape recordings of what appear to be the phone calls Giuliani was after between the three men while they were in office have been released in recent months by Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who met Giuliani in Kyiv in December. Derkach, a figure with little public support and a poor reputation among his country’s political elites, graduated from an academy run by the KGB, the Soviet predecessor to Russia’s Federal Security Service.
Wyden is also asking for documents “related to support by Congress and the international community for the removal of” Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s former top prosecutor who was criticized by Ukrainian anti-corruption groups, Western governments, and international financial institutions alike for failing to root out endemic corruption in his country. Shokin was fired in 2016 after Biden pressed Poroshenko to sack him or else his war-torn country would not receive much-needed loan guarantees worth $1 billion.
Trump, Giuliani, Trump supporters, and right-wing media have claimed Shokin’s firing was political in nature and assert that he was overseeing an active criminal probe into Burisma when he was sacked. In fact, there is no evidence supporting the claim, and Ukrainian prosecutors and anti-corruption activists with knowledge of the matter have said Shokin himself was actually a major obstacle standing in the way of Burisma investigations.
Moreover, last year, Ukrainian prosecutors began an audit of thousands of old case files, including those related to Burisma. Ruslan Ryaboshapka, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine who oversaw the audit, told Reuters last month that he found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Hunter Biden.
Spokespeople for the State Department, Graham, Grassley, and Johnson did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday morning.