Ukraine lawmaker met Giuliani to discuss misuse of U.S. taxpayer money in Ukraine

KIEV (Reuters) - An independent Ukrainian lawmaker said on Thursday he had met U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in Kiev to discuss the alleged misuse of U.S. taxpayer money by Ukrainian state bodies.

In a statement on Facebook accompanied by photos of the meeting, Andriy Derkach said the two had discussed the creation of an interparliamentary group to fight corruption.

As Trump faces an impeachment inquiry led by House of Representative Democrats into whether he abused his office by pressing Ukraine to investigate a political rival, the U.S. president and his allies have sought to reject that by saying Trump is interested in the wider issue of corruption in Ukraine.

As first reported by the New York Times, lawyer Rudy Giuliani has traveled to Budapest and Kiev this week to meet current and former Ukrainian officials for a documentary series amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

The meetings also include a former top prosecutor whose activities were documented in a whistleblower report that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

Giuliani could not be reached for immediate comment.

Ukraine is central to the impeachment inquiry because of allegations that Trump abused his power to pressure its president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his possible Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential race.

Trump has called the inquiry a partisan “witch hunt” and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has denied being pressured by Trump.

“Unfortunately, our country has been at the center of scandals about international corruption,” Derkach wrote in a statement on Facebook after meeting Giuliani.

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“Among other things, there are facts about the inefficient use of American taxpayers’ money by representatives of Ukrainian state bodies.”

Giuliani has alleged that Biden, while in office in 2016, pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor Viktor Shokin to end an investigation into Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where Biden’s son Hunter was a board member. Biden has accused Trump’s camp of peddling “universally-debunked lies”.

Derkach has previously disseminated information about Hunter Biden and Burisma that Giuliani has cited as evidence in his criticisms of the Biden family.

In the same Facebook post, Derkach also said that he and a lawmaker from Zelenskiy’s party had invited several senior figures in Washington to help form the interparliamentary group on corruption.

These included Republican Representative Devin Nunes, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

The U.S. embassy was not immediately available for comment.

Giuliani’s trip coincided with an apparently unconnected visit to Kiev by Philip Reeker, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

Reeker has testified in the impeachment inquiry and discussed the “irregular” role that Giuliani and others close to Trump played in U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

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Reeker met the new Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka for what the U.S. embassy said was a discussion about reforms.

Ryaboshapka’s office is closely watched in the context of the impeachment inquiry because it would make a decision on whether or not to launch an investigation into the Biden family in connection to Burisma, as Trump wants.

Ryaboshapka has previously said he had no evidence of wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part.

It was not immediately clear whether Giuliani would meet any officials in Zelenskiy’s administration on his visit. Zelenskiy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Giuliani also met former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, according to pictures posted on Twitter and a statement on Facebook by Lutsenko’s spokeswoman. While he was prosecutor general, Lutsenko privately met Giuliani twice this year: in New York in January and later somewhere in Poland.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday said she had instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry