Washington — The Trump administration announced Thursday it has sanctioned a pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker who has been spreading unsubstantiated allegations designed to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for attempting to influence the U.S. presidential election.
The Treasury Department said the lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, has been an "active Russian agent" for more than a decade and has close ties to Russian intelligence. Since late 2019, Derkach has "waged a covert influence campaign centered on cultivating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the U.S. designed to culminate prior to election day," the agency said.
Derkach released edited audio tapes and other unsubstantiated information between May and July that aimed to discredit unnamed U.S. officials, the Trump administration said. The Ukrainian lawmaker has also leveled "unsubstantiated allegations" against other American and international politicians.
In addition to Derkach, the U.S. sanctioned three others with ties to Russia. The three — Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev and Darya Aslanova — are employees of the Internet Research Agency, a Russia-based troll farm that spread disinformation on social media as part of the Kremlin's interference operation in 2016. Lifshits was also charged with wire fraud conspiracy for allegedly working with members of "Project Lakhta," a Russia-based effort to interfere in U.S. politics and elections, to steal Americans' identities and open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges.
The Justice Department said Project Lakhta's goal since May 2014 has been to "disrupt the democratic process and spread distrust towards candidates for political office and the political system in general." Project Lakhta has attempted to hide its conduct by operating through numerous entities, including the Internet Research Agency.
"Andrii Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Senate Republicans have been investigating possible links between Democrats and Ukraine, including possible conflicts of interest between Biden and his son Hunter, and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden. But Democrats have pushed back on the probe, saying Republicans are pursuing conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies and helping to spread Russian disinformation.
In August, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut claimed in a Washington Post op-ed that the GOP-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is using documents it received from Derkach in its probe, but committee Chairman Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, said that is false.
In December, Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's, traveled to Ukraine as part of his efforts to gather damaging information on Biden and met with Derkach.
The Ukrainian lawmaker is also mentioned by name in an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community that found Russia is actively trying to "denigrate" Biden.
"For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party," the assessment said.