The New York Times reported last month that Joe Biden was facing conflict of interest questions for his role as vice president in ousting a Ukrainian prosecutor. Now, a little more than one month later, it’s The Times that is facing conflict of interest questions for that very story and another.
On Monday, weeks after The Times published its widely-criticized story, one of the piece’s co-authors, freelancer Iuliia Mendel, announced that she had joined the Ukrainian government as spokesperson for the president of Ukraine.
“If you want changes — make them,” Mendel said in a press release. “I am glad to join Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team. We will do everything possible to be as open to the media and society as we can.”
The announcement prompted a fresh wave of backlash against The Times for its May 1 story, with critics questioning whether Mendel had a conflict of interest when she reported for the newspaper. Mendel, who did not respond to a request for comment, also wrote another story published May 20 about Ukrainian politics for The Times.
In a statement provided to CNN, Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, a spokesperson for The Times, said the newspaper learned last week that Mendel had applied on May 3 for the position as spokesperson for Ukraine’s president.
“Ms. Mendel wrote one story for The Times in May while she was a candidate for the government position, about the dissolution of Parliament,” Bevacqua said. “Had she informed editors of her job application, they would not have given her that assignment and we would have stopped working with her immediately given this serious conflict of interest.”
Bevacqua added, however, that editors “are confident that despite the conflict that should have been disclosed,” Mendel’s reporting, including the controversial May 1 story, “was fair and accurate.”
Mendel authored another story published on May 19 for The Times about Ukraine fighting sexual abuse in the military, but Bevacqua told CNN that while it was published in May, the article had been “filed earlier.”
In a statement emailed to CNN Tuesday morning, Mendel said she did not inform The Times about her offer until last week because she thought she “would not get it.”
Mendel further characterized questions about her having a conflict of interest while writing the Biden story as a “conspiracy” that “is quite illogical.”
“First, I work for the new administration that changed two weeks ago. The inauguration of a new President took place on May, 20. This new administration never had any connection to what was revealed in the story,” Mendel wrote. “I could not benefit from the story about Mr. Biden, in fact, vice verse, I was asked some sharp questions about it to make it clear that I was not connected to some of those cited in the story. So, as you see, the story was more an obstacle for getting this job as raised concerns from my possible future employers.”
“Second, my former colleague from the Times started the investigation last fall when the current President had not even announced about running for Presidency,” Mendel added.”This year, we have worked on it closely for around 2 months when no one knew in Ukraine that the new President could announce any transparent competition for the vacancies. The vacancy was announced on April 30 when the story was ready. I applied for it on May, 3 having confidence I would not even be considered.”
The May 1 story, which Mendel co-authored with Times reporter Ken Vogel, said that Biden faced conflict of interest questions in his role ousting Ukraine’s top prosecutor as part of an anti-corruption campaign.
The Times story suggested that Biden improperly pushed for the ouster because it benefited his son who was sat on the board of a company being investigated by the prosecutor.
The Times said that President Donald Trump’s allies, including his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were pushing the suggestion Biden acted improperly.
But it wasn’t until the 19th paragraph that The Times noted that there was no evidence to support the claim that Biden intentionally tried to aide his son by working to oust the prosecutor. Bloomberg also reported on May 16 that the Ukrainian prosecutor general said he had no evidence of misconduct against Biden.
Kate Bedingfield, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, told The Times at the time that Biden pushed for the ouster “without any regard for how it would or would not impact any business interests of his son, a private citizen.”
Bedingfield also pointed out to The Times that the prosecutor’s ouster had been backed by the United States and other institutions, such as the World Bank.
A Biden campaign spokesperson declined to comment on Monday to CNN about the revelation that Mandel had become the Ukraine president’s spokesperson, but Symone Sanders, a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign and a former CNN contributor, skewered The Times in a tweet.
“The fact that the NYTs acted as a willing agent for the Trump White House’s lies and defended the paper’s publishing of them, makes this even more eyebrow raising. Have folks learned ANYTHING from the last presidential election?” Sanders asked.