It Was Unfair to Drag Zelenskyy Into US Domestic Politics - Former US Official
16 May, 2019

Since Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani’s scheduled and then canceled visit to Ukraine, news and allegations on the matter have been coming thick and fast in the U.S. Equally fast have been the developments in Ukraine where the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and reformist MP Serhiy Leshchenko have exchanged a number of allegations against each other sparked by the U.S. visit story.

READ MORE: Ukraine’s Lutsenko Deliberately Misinformed Giuliani - MP Leshchenko

To help make sense of this complicated story, Hromadske spoke with David Kramer, United States’ Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2008-2009). We publish an excerpt of the interview.

How should we understand Rudolph Giulliani’s allegations against former vice president Biden and his interference in Ukrainian internal affairs and how should we interpret them?

I think that Ukraine is getting caught in the middle of American domestic politics. And I think that Mr. Giuliani is trying to change the narrative from what has been the case for the past 2+ years in the United States – allegations of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign – and is now trying to argue that instead there was a collusion between Ukraine and the Clinton campaign. And on top of that, that there was some corrupt activity, in which former vice president’s son was engaged, Hunter Biden with his position on the board of Burisma.

So it seems to me that there is a strong push, in which Ukraine is getting caught in the middle as we in the United States look ahead to our 2020 elections. And he as you know was planning to come this week to try and meet with Mr. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials to as he said very explicitly in an interview with the New York Times to meddle in the investigation, an investigation that as far as I understand ended before Mr. Shokin was replaced as Prosecutor General and I don’t quite understand what investigation he was pointing to. So it’s a very complicated issue but I think there is a rather simple underlying theme, which is Mr. Trump’s supporters are arguing that there was a collusion between the Clinton campaign and the Ukrainians. And that Hunter Biden was involved in activities here that he shouldn’t have been. I think that’s what it boils down to essentially.

So they’re trying to shift the attention of the public from the investigation of a collusion with the Russian government and instead forcing this topic of collusion with the Ukrainian government?

With the conclusion of the Mueller report, which found that there was no criminal activity between the Trump campaign and the Russians, there was no conspiracy. The term collusion in English is not a legal term criminally. The issue would have been whether there had been a conspiracy between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials. And Mueller and his team found that there was no evidence of that. It did find that there were extensive contacts, but not to the point of crossing the criminal threshold. Despite that, the Mueller report also found that there were instances of obstruction. So what the Mueller report stated was that it could not conclude that Trump had committed any criminal activity but it also could not exonerate the President, it could not find him completely innocent. And what we see since the conclusion of the Mueller report is a strong effort by committees in the US house of representatives, which the democrats control launch further investigations into the activities of 2016 between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Former U.S. Official David Kramer speaks to Hromadske on May 16, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo credit: HROMADSKE

And I think the hope of the Trump side that this would go away once the Mueller report was completed, they’re realizing that it is not happening. That the democrats in the house are continuing to investigate, continuing to push.

But there is also the element where Mr. Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General [of Ukraine], also seems to be willing to go along with this. He apparently was in touch with Mr. Giuliani back in January, if not before, giving some interviews to John Solomon from The Hill, and seemed particularly interested in trying to criticize the U.S. embassy here.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Anti-Graft Leader Summoned to PGO Over "US Election Meddling"

How will this issue affect Ukrainian-American relations in the long or short-term perspective?

The impact of Ukrainian-American relations is what I’m most worried about. I don’t want there to be an impression in the United States, in Washington or in the Trump administration that Ukraine or Ukrainian figures or the new President or people around him are anti-American or ant-Trump. Zelenskyy won in a landslide victory on April 21. I don’t think anyone knows what his positions are. I’m not sure he has fully formed his positions on things. I don’t think there’s any reason to suspect him of anti-Americanism or anti-Trump views. He is somebody who is scrambling to put a team together, to figure out how to address the challenges that Ukraine faces. My guess is that the last thing he wants to do is to get involved in an American political issue. And frankly I would suggest that his response in saying he didn’t want to meet is the right one. Mr. Giuliani apparently was interested in coming here to meet with Zelenskyy, the president-elect to urge him to continue the investigation of American activity in Ukraine and with Americans. The United States for years have advised Ukraine and many other countries in the region as you transition from the Communist system imposed on you by the Soviet Union that you should not politicize the legal and judicial procedures; that they should be independent, they should be based on evidence and they should be based on rule of law. And what Giuliani was proposing to do was to come here to meet with the president, the new president-elect to urge him to investigate all of this. That’s not the way it should be done. If there’s evidence, produce it. If there isn’t, move on.

But it’s best for Mr. Zelenskyy to focus on what should be his priorities, which is dealing with corruption in Ukraine, dealing with Russian invasion and threats, focus on addressing the economic situation here and keep his attention focused on the situation in this country.

I think it’s a little unfair frankly for outsiders to come here when Zelenskyy has to put a team together... He has to get ready for [the inauguration]. He has to address the needs of the Ukrainians who voted for him – there are high expectations for him. He’s got the Russians to deal with – Putin challenged him three days after his victory. And to have this thrown on him – I think it’s not very fair on him.

Can you tell us what happened with [the former US ambassador to Ukraine] Marie Yovanovitch withdrawal – apart from the official reasons? Also, we know that Giuliani accused her of another conspiracy. Can you comment on that?

My impression, from what I know, is that she has been an unfortunate victim caught in the middle of this. I’ve known her for, maybe, 15 years going back to when I served in the State Department in the George W. Bush administration. Everything I know of her is that she is an excellent career diplomat, she’s not a political figure. I’ve never heard her voice opinions on the current president on way or another: pro or con. She represents the United States, she is the president’s representative here in Ukraine. She was nominated before the U.S. election in 2016. And she’s been here through a difficult time for Ukraine, first and foremost. I think it’s unfortunate and unfair that her name has been dragged into this. I think she’s done a great job throughout her career in a number of difficult and challenging circumstances. And I know that she cares passionately about this country, as well as U.S.-Ukrainian relations. I think she’s represented the United States very well. I know that she’s leaving a little earlier than was anticipated – her plan was to leave this summer. But I think she should go out feeling very proud of what she has done here.

READ MORE: US Denies Giving Ukraine's Lutsenko "Do Not Prosecute" List

/Interview by Sashko Shevchenko