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Giuliani Associates Urged Ukraine's Prior President to Open Biden Probe

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 11/8/2019 Rebecca Ballhaus, Alan Cullison, Brett Forrest
a group of people standing in front of a building © shannon stapleton/Reuters

Months before President Trump pressed Ukraine’s newly installed leader to investigate Joe Biden’s son and allegations of interference in the 2016 U.S. election, two associates of Rudy Giuliani urged the prior Ukrainian president to announce similar probes in exchange for a state visit to Washington, according to people familiar with the matter.

A late February meeting in Kyiv between Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman and then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took place at the offices of Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, the people said. It came soon after Messrs. Parnas and Fruman met with Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and Mr. Lutsenko in New York in late January and again in Warsaw in mid-February, Mr. Giuliani has said.

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Mr. Lutsenko also attended the late February meeting, the people said. Mr. Poroshenko didn’t ultimately announce that he was opening those investigations. Mr. Lutsenko, the prosecutor, gave an interview to the Hill in March in which he said he was opening an investigation into alleged interference by Ukrainians in the 2016 U.S. election. He also said he had evidence he wanted to present to the U.S. Justice Department related to former Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma Group, a Ukrainian gas company where Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, was a director. Two months later, in an interview with Bloomberg, Mr. Lutsenko said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

The meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, shows associates of the U.S. president’s personal lawyer as early as February were pressing the president of Ukraine to open investigations that could benefit Mr. Trump politically in exchange for a White House visit. No White House meeting resulted from the discussions. Mr. Poroshenko lost his re-election bid to Volodymyr Zelensky, who Mr. Trump in a July call urged to investigate the Bidens, as well as other matters.

Mr. Poroshenko at the time was in a tight re-election race and had expressed interest to aides in visiting Washington. A visit to the White House could have improved his electoral chances with Ukrainian voters because it could have enhanced his stature, and he was open to the idea proposed by Mr. Giuliani’s associates, one of the people said. “He wanted to come to Washington and meet with Trump and then after the state dinner he would have an interview” with a major news outlet, the person said of Mr. Poroshenko. “Then he would say he would investigate meddling in 2016 and the Bidens.”

Robert Costello, a lawyer for Mr. Giuliani, said his client had no knowledge of the meeting. Representatives of Mr. Poroshenko and Mr. Lutsenko didn’t respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for Messrs. Parnas and Fruman declined to comment. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were clients of Mr. Giuliani who helped him in his monthslong push for investigations in Ukraine. John Dowd, a former attorney for Messrs. Parnas and Fruman, said in a letter to Congress last month that both men “assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump.”

Mr. Giuliani has said his efforts in Ukraine were on the president’s behalf, “done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges.”

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were arrested last month on campaign-finance charges. Both pleaded not guilty last month.

After Mr. Zelensky was elected in April but before his inauguration, Messrs. Parnas and Fruman held discussions with Serhii Shefir, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, about a possible meeting with Mr. Giuliani, according to a statement Friday by Mr. Shefir. He said the new Ukrainian government didn’t consider the men to be representatives of the U.S. government and told them he couldn’t discuss a possible meeting until after the May 20 inauguration. He said he informed Mr. Zelensky of the discussions.

Around that time, Mr. Giuliani has said he planned to travel to Kyiv to meet with Mr. Zelensky to urge him to undertake investigations into the Bidens and alleged election interference but canceled the trip after news of it became public, saying on Fox News he felt he was being “set up” by the Ukrainians.

Mr. Giuliani told the Journal in September that Mr. Trump was aware of his plan to meet Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer declined comment on the possible Zelensky meeting.

At the time of the July call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump had ordered nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine put on hold. A whistleblower complaint following that phone call triggered the impeachment investigation by House Democrats, who allege Mr. Trump abused his office by asking a foreign country for investigations that could have benefited his political fortunes. Mr. Trump has termed the call “perfect” and the impeachment investigation a hoax. The aid to Ukraine was released in September under pressure from Congress. Public hearings in the impeachment probe begin next week.

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma Group while the former vice president was spearheading an international anticorruption effort in the country, an arrangement Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have described as corrupt. Both Bidens have denied any impropriety; Hunter Biden has called serving on the board given his father’s role showed “poor judgment.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani and their allies also have pushed a theory, without evidence, that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election by hacking Democratic National Committee servers—a theory at odds with analysis by the U.S. intelligence community and by special counsel Robert Mueller.

At least four current and former administration officials have testified in closed-door hearings that they believed President Trump was using a White House meeting with Mr. Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, and the aid to Ukraine as leverage to press Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens and alleged 2016 election interference.

In February, Mr. Poroshenko was anxious to engage with Mr. Trump as he tried to boost his poll numbers before the presidential elections in Ukraine in the following weeks, another person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Poroshenko was angling for a high-profile visit to Washington in April, the person said, which would have been after the first round of voting in late March, but before the runoff vote on April 21.

“He needed a Hail Mary and a state visit in Washington and was ready to become Trump’s best friend in order to secure support,” the person said.

Mr. Poroshenko’s approval rating sagged, and the arrangement discussed in the February meeting didn’t come to fruition, the person said. Mr. Poroshenko finished a distant second place in initial voting in the March election. He told the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to prepare for a possible U.S. visit before the April 21 runoff, but an invitation never came from the White House, the person said.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com and Brett Forrest at brett.forrest@wsj.com

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