According to a new report from The Washington Post, the FBI warned longtime Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) in 2019 and 2020, respectively, that they were the targets of Russian disinformation campaigns meant to impact the course of the 2020 presidential election cycle — and neither of them made any significant changes in their relevant behavior following the warnings. Giuliani and Johnson were both involved with Republican efforts to cast a harsh light on the Bidens over certain dealings in Ukraine that Trump allies have falsely characterized as corrupt.
UPDATE: Updated reports state that Giuliani did not receive a formal warning after all. Other elements of this story are still known to be accurate.
A Russian intelligence services-backed false characterization of Biden dealings in Ukraine as corrupt “dates back to at least 2014,” as summarized by the Post, and Russian agents sought to use these false claims against Biden — with the help of duped Trump allies — during the 2020 election cycle.
According to the Post, concern from the intelligence community about Giuliani’s activities reached the White House in late 2019, where then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien relayed the information to then-President Donald Trump — and unsurprisingly, the then-president does not appear to have taken any significant steps following the warning from O’Brien that “any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia.” Around that time, Giuliani met with Ukrainian politician Andriy Derkach, who has since been characterized by the Treasury Department as a Russian agent.
Giuliani’s interactions with Derkach were a part of his effort to procure so-called dirt on the Bidens. In February of 2020, months after his initial meeting with Derkach in Ukraine, Giuliani hosted the Ukrainian lawmaker in New York for a taping of his podcast. On the edition of Giuliani’s podcast where the apparent Russian agent appears, Derkach claimed that “billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine were misused or went missing while Joe Biden was handling the Obama administration’s Ukraine portfolio,” as summarized by the Post. His claims are false.
Meanwhile, Johnson — in his then-role as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee — worked to draw attention to the allegations of corrupt Biden dealings in Ukraine with a formal panel investigation. That investigation by his committee concluded that Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s presence on the board for a certain Ukrainian energy company was “problematic” — and that’s it. Calling something “problematic” doesn’t exactly equate with the grandiose corruption claims that Trump and his allies have pushed, and it’s not a Trump opponent who at the time chaired the panel responsible for that conclusion — it’s Ron Johnson.
Separately, Johnson (and members of his staff) met at one point with ex-Ukrainian diplomat Andriy Telizhenko, who has sought to spread the false claim that Ukrainian interests (rather than Russian intelligence services) were behind interference in the 2016 U.S. election process.
Johnson considered subpoenaing Telizhenko to testify before his committee, but after the FBI briefed the committee about his “background and motives,” as summarized by the Post, both Republican and Democratic members united to pressure Johnson to stand down. When the Trump administration was still in power, the Treasury Department sanctioned Telizhenko for his role in 2020 election meddling efforts. Johnson almost touted someone as a Congressional witness who turned out — in line with past concern — to be an election meddling operative.