Mueller probes Ukrainian who pitched peace plan to White House
KIEV â" Special counsel Robert Muellerâs team has been meeting over the last year with a Ukrainian lawmaker at the center of a controversial plan to end his countryâs conflict with Russia, pressing him for details about interactions with Trump administration officials.
Andrii Artemenko told POLITICO that FBI agents had peppered him with âassorted questionsâ over âat leastâ two interviews about his âmeetings, dealings and the questions discussed with various levels of the American political establishment.â
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âThese included congressmen, senators and representatives of the White House administration,â he added in a telephone conversation on Friday, after a meeting with members of the Mueller team.
While Artemenko declined to offer the names of specific people the FBI asked about, the details shed new light on the work of the special counsel, who is spearheading an investigation into Russiaâs attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and whether the Trump campaign aided in these efforts.
In total, Artemenko said, he was presented with a list of more than 140 questions and is now scheduled to appear under oath before a grand jury on June 1.
Artemenko has become a figure of interest in Muellerâs Russia probe because of his attempts to back-channel a deal to President Donald Trump that would have had his administration drop sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama White House. In exchange, the Kremlin would have withdrawn its troops from Eastern Ukraine, while a referendum would be held in the country on whether Crimea â" the Ukrainian territory Moscow seized in 2014 â" would be leased to Russia for 50 or 100 years.
Artemenko has drawn additional scrutiny because he attempted to shuttle this plan to the White House via two Trump associates now of in terest to investigators â" Trump business associate Felix Sater and Michael Cohen, the presidentâs personal lawyer. The plan also may have ultimately ended up on the desk of then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian officials.
âIâm cooperating, Iâm very transparent, Iâm open for any kind of question,â Artemenko told POLITICO.
At his grand jury testimony, Artemenko expects to be asked about the peace plan he proposed not long after the presidentâs inauguration in January 2017, among other things.
The proposal came around the same time as the much-discussed telephone conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, during which the two discussed dropping sanctions against Russia. Flynn was later fired for misleading his colleagues about the interaction, and the FBI filed charges in December for lying to investigators about the call.
Artemenko declin ed to comment on whether Flynn, or possibly Trump, figured among the âWhite House representativesâ that Muellerâs investigators had brought up.
However, he did say the FBI agents asked him a âwide circle of questionsâ that touched on Russia.
A spokesman for Muellerâs team declined to comment.
One Capitol Hill lawmaker Artemenko did meet with is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who has gained a reputation for taking pro-Russian stances. A spokesman for Rohrabacher told POLITICO that the congressman met with Artemenko on Jan. 23, 2017, as chair of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee focused on Europe and Eurasia.
âBut by now the man blends with all the others and little if anything of consequence came out of the meeting,â the spokesman said, adding that Rohrabacher âdoes not expect to meet with Muellerâs team.â
Artemenkoâs back-channel peace plan is more likely to be of interest. The efforts were first revealed by The New Y ork Times in February 2017. According to this first version, Artemenko contacted Sater, a Russian-American, with the intention of passing on his proposal to someone in the administration.
Sater and Artemenko then met with Cohen at Manhattan hotel, who eventually delivered the plan to Flynnâs desk.
Afterwards, those involved disputed the accounts. Cohen, for example, said he threw away the plan and never gave it to Flynn. Artemenko was also quoted as saying that the Russians were on board with his proposal, but later said he had never made contact with any Moscow officials.
But while the peace plan was an interesting sidebar in most American coverage of the Mueller investigation, it unleashed a major scandal in Ukraine. Artemenko was already an outspoken critic of the countryâs president, Petro Poroshenko, and government officials did not take kindly to his attempt to do an end run around their own peace negotiations.
Artemenko was kicked out of his fac tion in parliament, and Ukraineâs general prosecutor launched an investigation into whether he had committed treason. He was later stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, under charges of illegally holding a second passport.
Based on his previous public statements, it is difficult to envision Artemenko intentionally providing information that is damaging to the Trump administration. Artemenko attended Trumpâs inauguration and is a vocal supporter of the president on his Facebook page. He also expends considerable energy in conversation attacking Ukrainian President Poroshenko for alleged corruption and for failing to end the war with Russia.
However, his close contacts with Trumpâs inner circle and Republican lawmakers may be what makes him most valuable to the special counsel. Cohen and Sater have both emerged recently as key persons of interest in the investigation. The pair worked together to try and launch a Trump-branded development in Moscow starting in earl y 2015. And Artemenko said that the FBI asked him about energy projects he had pitched to Qatari and American investors, which âindirectlyâ involved Sater.
Cohen has also come under legal scrutiny for large payments he received for consulting services after Trumpâs inauguration, as well as for a payment he made to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star alleging an affair with Trump, as part of a nondisclosure agreement.
In the end, Artemenko said his testimony was a chance to clear up various misunderstandings, and to help US-Ukrainian relations. âIâm absolutely within my rights,â he said. âEverything Iâve done has been for the benefit of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.â
âIâm providing just the facts,â he said.
Kyle Cheney and Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.Source: Google News Ukraine | Netizen 24 Ukraine