The US State Department revoked the visa of a former Ukrainian diplomat who has worked with Republicans to spread baseless conspiracy theories about the Biden family and foreign meddling in 2016, American and Ukrainian officials told CNN on Monday.
A US official said there are also conversations within the US government about potentially sanctioning that individual – Andrii Telizhenko – and identifying him as a Russian agent. Democrats have accused Telizhenko of intentionally spreading Russian disinformation.
In mid-September, the US Treasury Department sanctioned another ally of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – controversial Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach – and accused him of being an “active Russian agent” who is part of Moscow’s interference in the 2020 campaign.
A source familiar told CNN that Ukrainians became aware of the visa revocation when Telizhenko attempted to board a flight from Kiev to New York and was unable to do so. It is unclear why he was planning to visit New York, the source said, but they believed it was tied to the US presidential election being just around the corner.
Speaking about Telizhenko’s visa revocation, Ukrainian ambassador to the US Volodymyr Yelchenko told CNN, “The guy fully deserved it.”
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment, telling CNN, “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases.”
The Washington Post was the first to report that Telizhenko’s visa had been revoked.
Telizhenko is a stalwart Giuliani ally who has traveled with the former mayor and has promoted the conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to weaken Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and defeat President Donald Trump. That theory flies in the face of the unanimous assessment from US intelligence agencies that it was the Russian government who interfered in the 2016 election, and their goal was to elect Trump.
Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment on the visa revocation.
Telizhenko played a significant role Senate GOP investigation into Bidens
Telizhenko played a significant role in the Republican-led Senate investigation into Ukraine and the Bidens. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, had sought earlier this year to subpoena Telizhenko, who was a contractor to a US public affairs companies that worked with Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, but he scrapped the subpoena following objections from Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican.
Democrats accused Johnson and Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who co-led the report, of relying on Telizhenko despite the fact that he was one of the “known purveyors of Russian disinformation narratives” involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
In the Republican report released last month, which accused Hunter Biden who was hired by Burisma, of being involved in questionable foreign payments, Telizhenko is cited repeatedly. The report, which did not accuse Joe Biden of any wrongdoing, even tried to turn the allegations surrounding Telizhenko back on the Democrats, including a section header that “Obama administration officials and a Democrat lobbying firm had consistent and significant contact” with Telizhenko. Johnson denied relying on Russian disinformation in his investigation.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was a top White House adviser on Ukraine and had regular contacts with the Ukrainian embassy, testified in the impeachment inquiry that Telizhenko is “not a credible individual.” David Holmes, a top US diplomat, also cast doubt on Telizhenko, telling lawmakers, “I don’t think we found his perspective to be always credible and useful.”
Despite the condemnation, Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media. He spread his allegations on Trump-friendly conspiracy sites like Infowars and Gateway Pundit, appeared on One America News Network and gave an interview to The Hill’s ex-columnist John Solomon, who coordinated his work with Giuliani and other Trump allies.
Some of that coverage highlighted his partnership with Giuliani, who has also championed many of the same conspiracy theories about Ukrainian election meddling. Last year, Telizhenko participated in meetings between Giuliani and two disgraced Ukrainian prosecutors who accused the Bidens of corruption, promoting claims that were largely debunked and discredited.
Those meetings happened while the impeachment proceedings were happening in Washington – with Congress scrutinizing allegations that Trump had abused his powers to seek political favors from the Ukrainian government.
The intelligence community has warned about Russian efforts to interfere in next month’s election, and the Treasury Department’s decision to sanction Derkach was an extraordinary step by the US government to publicly condemn Russia’s ongoing interference in the 2020 election. The US Embassy in Kiev on Monday warned against doing business with Derkach, noting he “maintains close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services and has served as an active Russian agent for over a decade, employing manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has railed against the Trump administration for politicizing the intelligence agencies, commended the action taken against Derkach and said that more action in that vein needs to be taken.
However, when asked if Murphy thinks that the Trump administration will take additional actions to publicly identify other Russian agents he was skeptical.
“I don’t think the White House or the [intelligence] agencies have any plans to release additional information – that will only happen if we build that pressure,” Murphy said at the Truman Center for National Policy’s annual conference. “And that’s why I have started to talk more about what I know, and how it’s inconsistent with what the intel agencies have told us to try to create that pressure campaign.”
CNN’s Michael Warren contributed to this report.