Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor has put four investigations of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on ice to avoid angering the American president while the eastern European country was completing a deal to buy American anti-tank missiles, reports The New York Times.
The freeze on a probe into Manafort’s lucrative deals with the pro-Soviet president of Ukraine, who was forced from office amid street riots in Kiev in 2014, could hinder Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia to interfere with the 2016 American presidential election.
“The cases are just too sensitive for a government deeply reliant on United States financial and military aid,” reports The NY Times, “and keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s distaste for the investigation by the special counsel.”
After the fall of the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, the new government opened a probe into corruption by the former administration that involved 3,000 cases, four of which related to Manafort, including those that traced payments made to him and money laundering, all of great interest to Mueller.
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In April, as the Ukraine government finalized the purchase of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 35 launching units, the four cases involving Manafort were frozen.
Volodymyr Ariev, a member of the Ukraine parliament and friend of current president Petro O. Poroshenko, “readily acknowledged” to the NY Times that Kiev had put the Manafort probes “in the long-term box.”
“In every possible way,” said Ariev, “we will avoid irritating the top American officials.”
As part of its investigation, the Ukrainians discovered a secret ledger that listed political payoffs, including $12.5 million in payouts to Manafort, who has denied he received any such under the table payouts from the pro-Russian Ukrainians.
In January, before the cases were frozen, the Ukrainian government prosecutor reached out to Mueller offering to share evidence and leads but never got a reply. That no longer matters since the prosecutor in Kiev no longer has authority to investigate.
Another way this hurts Mueller is that the Ukrainians let Manafort’s office manager in Ukraine, who is tied to a Russian intelligence agency, leave the country.
“In another move seeming to hinder Mr. Mueller’s investigation,” reports the NY Times, “Ukrainian law enforcement allowed a potential witness to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to leave for Russia, putting him out of reach for questioning.”
Ukraine has now received the anti-tank missiles and launchers but there is no movement to reopen the investigation for the same reasons – it might anger Trump.
Ukraine still receives about $600 million a year in aid from the U.S. and needs the Americans as a key ally considering the on-going threat of another Russian invasion and constant skirmishes with pro-Russian separatist groups on their border.
A member of the opposition party in Ukraine also opposes helping Mueller’s probe.
“Can you imagine,” David Sakvarelidze said, “that Trump writes on Twitter, ‘The United States isn’t going to support any corrupt post-Soviet leaders, including in Ukraine.’ That would be the end of him.”
Another member of Parliament, Andrey L. Derkach, helped launch an investigation into leaks to the news media about Manafort’s dealings with Ukrainian law enforcement, “saying they put at risk vital American aid to Ukraine,” reports The NY Times. “He has openly opposed any Ukrainian role in aiding the special counsel’s investigation.”
“Ukraine, Mr. Derkach said in an interview (with The NY Times), would be taking grave risks if it assisted in what he called a politicized investigation in the United States. In Ukraine, he said, ‘everybody is afraid of this case.'”
This is not going to make it easier for Mueller and plays into Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” but it does not make it impossible for the Special Prosecutor to make his case against Manafort.
However, it does show how much power Trump has to hinder the investigation and limit Mueller’s access to information that might be helpful.
Based on his past actions and statements, Trump will use every tool, every angle and every bit of leverage at his disposal to hinder Mueller and his investigation, so having Ukraine be a willing participant in a coverup is another cloud over the probe.