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Ukraine president-elect may refuse to meet Trump’s lawyer when he flies into Kiev, sources say

Rudy Giuliani's initiative has apparently gone down badly in Ukraine. 

Oliver Carroll
Friday 10 May 2019 19:57 BST
Rudy Guiliani
Rudy Guiliani (AP)

A controversial plan to leverage Ukrainian politics in the 2020 American election campaign looks to have come unstuck, with The Independent learning president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky may now refuse to meet Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani when he arrives in Kiev later this month.

Mr Guiliani’s trip, first reported in The New York Times on Thursday, has been described as an attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigations to help Mr Trump’s re-election campaign.

Team Trump, it was suggested, was interested in finding dirt on two things: the chain of events leading to special counsel Robert Mueller’s collusion inquiry, and the alleged role of presidential rival Joe Biden in supposedly stopping an investigation into a gas company where his son worked.

The former New York mayor said he hoped to meet with a number of leading Ukrainian politicians including Mr Zelensky, elected in a landslide election last month, and Ukraine’s controversial top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko.

The initiative had followed a curious announcement by Mr Lutsenko in March that he was investigating whether Mr Biden had pushed for the removal of his predecessor in the job, Viktor Shokin, to stop an investigation into his son’s firm.

That Mr Lutsenko’s interpretation did not seem to have any factual basis — Mr Shokin was still very much in office when the investigation was dropped, and only fired several months later — does not seem to have dimmed Mr Guiliani’s enthusiasm.

In a separate interview with Hill.TV, Mr Lutsenko also contended that Artem Sytnyk, the reformist head of Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau, and a man with whom he has a difficult relationship, had, in 2016, intentionally leaked financial data to help Hillary Clinton’s re-election campaign.

The data related to illegal payments the party of disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych made to President Trump’s former election coordinator Paul Manafort.

Mr Manafort was later convicted by US courts for a number of financial crimes and jailed for a total of nearly 8 years.

Speaking with The New York Times, Mr Guiliani said his Ukrainian trip was designed to ensure Ukrainian authorities would not drop their investigations. It was not an attempt to “meddle in an election,” he said, but to “meddle in an investigation.”

President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky (AFP)

“That information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government,” he is quoted as saying.

But the Giuliani initiative has, perhaps unsurprisingly, gone down badly in Ukraine. Many criticise him for an indelicate and unhelpful intervention into local politics.

Two separate sources in Mr Zelensky’s circle told The Independent that it was now unlikely the president-elect would choose to personally attend the meeting, and would instead send representatives.

Mr Giuliani’s union with Mr Lutsenko has come under particular fire, with activists asking why the American politician had chosen to associate himself with a compromised Ukrainian prosecutor obviously fighting to save his political skin.

President-elect Zelensky has already indicated he plans to replace Mr Lutsenko, whose term runs out in 2020.

“Everyone understands it is a desperate attempt from a bankrupt prosecutor,” said Sergii Leshchenko, a reformist MP connected to the Zelensky team, and who has also been attacked by Trump allies over his role in publishing the Manafort ledger data.

“Lutsenko doesn’t want to leave the prosecutors office because he has nowhere else to go to.”

It is unclear whether Mr Giuiliani has the explicit blessing of his president for the fact-finding mission. But Mr Trump’s social media profile does suggest a positive reception for Prosecutor Lutsenko’s efforts, with the president retweeting the Hill.TV article alleging “improper” Ukrainian interference to aid the Clinton campaign.

That, Mr Leshchenko contended, would have been music to Prosecutor Lutsenko’s ears.

“Lutshenko has decided his only way to cling onto the prosecutor’s office is with the help of a Trump ally,” he said. “It may not be the last fairytale we hear from him.”

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