Rudy Giuliani and Andriy Telizhenko both love their cigars. For six hours they smoked and ate hamburgers in Mr. Giuliani’s New York law office while the former Ukrainian diplomat told U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney exactly what he wanted to hear.
What Mr. Telizhenko told Mr. Giuliani in their May 17 meeting – and Mr. Giuliani’s willingness to believe the 29-year-old’s version of some key events in recent history – helped send the United States down the path to Mr. Trump’s fateful phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The impeachment hearings that followed have sprung from Mr. Trump’s attempts to persuade the Ukrainian leader to open an investigation that could damage former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden.
Mr. Telizhenko says he told Mr. Giuliani that the Ukrainian embassy in Washington – where he worked as third secretary for seven months before resigning in June 2016 – had intervened to aid Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, aiming to help keep Mr. Trump from the White House. Separately, Mr. Telizhenko, who worked in the office of former prosecutor-general Vitaly Yarema before beginning his brief diplomatic career, claimed to know that Mr. Biden, who could be Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020, had put pressure on Ukraine to drop an investigation of an oil and gas company that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Telizhenko recalled how Mr. Giuliani got excited and took copious notes on a legal pad as Mr. Telizhenko told him how he was asked by Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. to dig up dirt on Paul Manafort – who briefly served as head of Mr. Trump’s campaign after a career in Ukraine where he helped bring the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency. Mr. Telizhenko told Mr. Giuliani that he was directed to share what he gathered on Mr. Manafort with a Democratic Party operative.
Mr. Giuliani was equally keen to hear about what Mr. Telizhenko says was Mr. Biden’s strong interest in what was and wasn’t being investigated by Ukrainian authorities, though anti-corruption activists in Kyiv said Mr. Biden was actually trying to force out a prosecutor-general who was widely viewed as corrupt.
There were plenty of reasons for Mr. Giuliani to question what he was hearing. Much of what Mr. Telizhenko says is unprovable, based on conversations that he says he was party to. Mr. Telizhenko also says that it was he who sought out Mr. Giuliani, not the other way around. He says he can’t remember who paid for his flight to New York.
Mr. Telizhenko says that he does consulting work – “advising him about international relations” – for Pavel Fuks, a Ukrainian oligarch who a decade ago sought to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a project that never came to fruition. (Mr. Giuliani also counts Mr. Fuks among his clients. A congressional committee is now seeking records of Mr. Giuliani’s contacts with various politicians and businessmen in Ukraine, including Mr. Fuks.)
Within days of Mr. Telizhenko’s trip to New York, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump had launched a fierce campaign aimed at coercing Mr. Zelensky to look into allegations of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election – and to open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine.
The pressure campaign culminated in the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. An unnamed whistle-blower who came forward after the call points to the May meeting between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Telizhenko as one of the building blocks in the saga.
Leaning back in a chair in the lobby of a five-star hotel in Kyiv that he jokingly refers to as “my home,” with a cigar in one hand and a $100 glass of Lagavulin whisky in the other, Mr. Telizhenko says he approached Mr. Giuliani because he was disturbed by the role the Ukrainian embassy had played in the U.S. election.
Whether someone believes Mr. Telizhenko – now a full-time political consultant – likely corresponds with whether the listener likes Mr. Trump.
Mr. Giuliani obviously does. “He was interested in what I was saying,” Mr. Telizhenko said, recalling how Mr. Giuliani had a surprisingly deep knowledge of who was beholden to whom in Ukraine’s murky mixture of business and politics. At the end, Mr. Trump’s attorney seemed delighted with the encounter. “He said ‘Oh Andriy, you’ve filled a gap for me,'” Mr. Telizhenko recalled. “We still keep in touch. I’ve met with him numerous times since.’”
Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged meeting Mr. Telizhenko, but has refused to comment on what was said. “I can’t tell you a thing about the meeting,” he told The Washington Post in May. “When I have something to say, I’ll say it.”
Another Ukrainian named in the whistle-blower’s report – Serhiy Leshchenko, a journalist and former member of Ukraine’s parliament – says Mr. Telizhenko has been trying to make himself useful to the Trump administration by telling Mr. Giuliani what he wanted to hear.
“The integrity of Mr. Telizhenko is very discussable,” Mr. Leshchenko said in an interview at a Kyiv café, where he ordered pasta and tomato juice. He said it defied credibility that an effort to meddle in the U.S. election would run through the Ukrainian embassy’s third secretary, who had only moved to Washington a few months earlier. “I do not believe such a conspiracy would be ordered by the ambassador to such a low-level diplomat who is not part of his inner circle.”
Mr. Leshchenko is himself a key figure in the narrative that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have latched onto. According to the whistle-blower’s report, Mr. Leshchenko had been identified to Mr. Giuliani as having worked with the U.S. embassy in Kyiv to dig up dirt on Mr. Manafort – including a ledger that Mr. Leshchenko published in 2016, revealing payments Mr. Manafort received from Mr. Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed political party. Mr. Manafort was convicted and jailed last year on charges of “conspiracy to defraud the United States” as well as financial crimes related to those payments.
Despite the court judgment, Mr. Giuliani has repeatedly claimed that the ledger was fake, and part of the effort to damage Mr. Trump.
Mr. Leshchenko says he published the ledger for journalistic reasons, and that the alternative version was fed to Mr. Giuliani by another Ukrainian – the country’s former prosecutor-general Yuriy Lutsenko – trying to ingratiate himself to the Trump administration. “His idea was to keep his position as prosecutor-general after the [Ukraine’s April presidential] election, to be protected by Giuliani and the Trump team.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Lutsenko dismissed the allegation as “stupid” since the White House did not have the power to appoint the prosecutor-general of Ukraine. He said he spoke with Mr. Giuliani because he thought the U.S. and Ukraine should co-operate not only on looking into the Bidens, as well as Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election, but also on the recovery of billions of dollars stolen from the Ukrainian state while Mr. Yanukovych was in power.
Mr. Lutsenko said he and his predecessors in the prosecutor-general’s office had tried and failed to use official channels to get U.S. co-operation on those three files. He says it was out of frustration that he reached out to Mr. Trump’s personal attorney. “It was in Ukraine’s national interest for me to meet Mr. Giuliani to ask for advice about what to do legally to activate these investigations.”
Mr. Lutsenko left Ukraine last week and is now in London, where he says he is taking English lessons.
On Wednesday, two Trump donors who were instrumental in gathering evidence about the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine were arrested as they tried to leave the country via Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were accused of engaging in political activities in the U.S. on behalf of one or more Ukrainian government officials.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.