By Nick Licata
The Republican Defense of Trump Relies on a Ukrainian Prosecutor Removed from Office for Tolerating Corruption
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin – Wikipedia photo
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly asked Ukraine to open an investigation into their country’s corruption. Rather than work with, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Ukraine’s current General Prosecutor, a position that is similar to our Attorney General, they have sought out a former prosecutor who was removed for refusing to pursue charges against individuals and corporations that had been identified by his own office as corrupt. Is there a gap in logic here?
That prosecutor is Viktor Shokin. He was appointed by the oligarch Petro Poroshenko who won the election for president as a reformist after the Euromaidan 2014/15 populist revolt against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Shokin was not a holdover from that corrupt government, so the expectation was that he would diligently pursue those who had bilked the Ukrainian people out of billions of dollars.
Although Shokin only served from Feb 11, 2015, until March 29, 2016, his term in office became controversial. He had come under repeated criticism within Ukraine for not prosecuting officials, businessmen and members of parliament for their roles in corrupt schemes under the former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
That mounting dissatisfaction with Shokin was reflected in December of 2015 when the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said there were no vigorous efforts to combat the kind of self-dealing that had occurred in the past. Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which props up Ukraine financially, said fighting corruption was so weak that “it’s hard to see how I.M.F. support can continue.”
Shokin was also implicated in tolerating corruption within his own department after troves of diamonds, cash, and other valuables were found in the homes of two of Mr. Shokin’s subordinates, suggesting that they had been taking bribes. When prosecutors in Shokin’s office tried to bring the subordinates to trial, they were fired or resigned, and there was no further inquiry. Shokin’s own deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, resigned in February 2016, alleging that Shokin’s office was itself corrupt.
Because Shokin was not investigating other serious signs of corruption, foreign donors suspected their contributions were being stolen without restraint Americans provided them support. Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine in 2015 and 2016 to complain about the ongoing stalled efforts to fight corruption by the prosecutor’s office.
In his last visit, March 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Ukraine failed to address corruption by employing a new more aggressive general prosecutor. The Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Shokin by a comfortable margin that same month.
Given the breadth of Shokin critics, stemming from street demonstrations to the head IMF official, and in the end even his own deputy, it is puzzling why our President Trump, would go out of his way to describe him as a “very good” former prosecutor to the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25, 2019 call.
Also, why would Congressman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, in December 2018, meet with Shokin in Vienna, 2 years after Shokin left the office. Nunes has denied that the meeting took place. Public records do show that Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018, with three of his aides. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s very short four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.
Shokin told President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani associate Lev Parnas that he had met Nunes. Parnas is willing to testify under oath before congress of what he knows, but unless there was a third person present, who is willing to appear before Congress, it will be Parnas’s word against Nunes’s. Shokin has worked closely with the Russian government and they would not look kindly on him if he were to confirm anything that endangered Trump’s presidency.
Giuliani had previously met Shokin because he had started investigating Burisma as the former prosecutor-general. Nunes was probably encouraged by Giuliani to visit Shokin to gather some incriminating information about Hunter Biden. However, Shokin’s investigations were either dropped or dormant by the time he was fired.
His lack of pursuing an investigation of Burisma was noted by the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC). Daria Kaleniuk a leader of AntAC told the NYT, “Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma. And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.” Just before he was fired, Shokin’s office raided the AntAC headquarters, claiming that it had misappropriated aid money.
While there is no smoking gun or a tape recording of the Nunes meeting with Shokin, the likelihood of such a meeting makes sense. Parnas had worked with Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort as a lobbyist for Ukraine at a time when Ukraine’s government was aligned with Russian interests under the former president Yanukovych. Parnas was also working with Giulani to push Ukraine to open an investigation on Hunter Biden since he was on the Burisma company board. Although Shokin has claimed that if he was still in office, he would have investigated Biden, he did not while he was the prosecutor.
It is reasonable to believe that Shokin would have told Parnas that he had met with Nunes since all three were trying to discover if Biden had participated in corruption. They were all on the same team. Additionally, Nunes was about to relinquish his committee chairmanship to a democrat since they would be in control of the House of Representatives the next month. Interviewing Shokin may have given Nunes an opportunity to make one last media splash if Shokin had something valuable and newsworthy to share.
Republicans would surely have released any item that Shokin could produce that would incriminate Biden. They haven’t. But Trump and the Republicans still insist that he was fired because Vice President Biden demanded it. Trump accuses Biden of fearing that his son Hunter Biden could be drawn into some corruption scandal. He may have feared that but none of the three last general prosecutors have investigated Hunter Biden and all have said that they have had no reason to.
The bottom line is that Trump and the Republicans suspect that Hunter and papa Joe are somehow connected to corruption in Ukraine. However, the only prosecutor they trust for information is the only one that the Russians trust – Shokin, who was kicked out of office by a duly elected parliament – for being corrupt.