The United States says it has imposed sanctions on a Ukrainian lawmaker behind leaked telephone records of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, as well as three other "Russia-linked" individuals accused of attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process.
The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement on September 10 that it had blacklisted Andriy Derkach, who has been helping President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani find compromising information on Biden.
The Treasury Department said Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who studied at the KGB school in Moscow, has been “an active Russian agent” for over a decade.
“Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election. Today’s designation of Derkach is focused on exposing Russian malign influence campaigns and protecting our upcoming elections from foreign interference,” the statement said.
The move comes amid growing concern in Washington about attempts by Russia and other foreign nations to interfere in the November elections through social media, fake news, and other means.
In the same statement, the Treasury Department announced it had also sanctioned three Russian nationals working on behalf of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the so-called troll factory based in St. Petersburg that was involved in the Kremlin’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
"Russia uses a variety of proxies to attempt to sow discord between political parties and drive internal divisions to influence voters as part of Moscow's broader efforts to undermine democratic countries and institutions," the Treasury Department said.
The three Russian nationals -- Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova -- were sanctioned because they had “supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts.”
The IRA "uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world," the Treasury Department said.
Separately, the Justice Department announced on September 10 that Lifshits is facing criminal charges in the United States for stealing American identities.
The United States had previously sanctioned the IRA and owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider known as “Putin’s chef,” for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Between May and July, Derkach released edited audio tapes from 2016 of Biden’s conversations with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Biden served as the Obama administration’s point man to Kyiv following the 2014 revolution that ousted corrupt, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and regularly spoke with Poroshenko.
On the tapes, Biden appears to tell Poroshenko that the United States will provide a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine once Kyiv replaces its top prosecutor.
The West tied loans and other forms of financial aid to Ukraine to concrete reforms, including steps to combat corruption. U.S. and European officials had complained that Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin was failing to prosecute cases and sought his removal.
However, Giuliani with the help of Derkach has tried to push a widely dismissed theory that Biden sought to sack the Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Kyiv-based natural gas company owned by a former official accused of corruption.
The Treasury Department said the tapes published by Derkach were intended “to discredit U.S. officials” and that he “levied unsubstantiated allegations” against American and foreign political figures.
“Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims,” it said in its statement.
Derkach's designation "is a clear signal to Moscow and its proxies that this activity will not be tolerated," the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions freeze any assets within U.S. jurisdiction and prevent U.S. individuals or entities from doing business with them.
The Ukrainian lawmaker fired back later in the day, accusing Biden and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing Ukraine, of “revenge.”
Derkach claimed the sanctions were announced now to preempt another publication of supposed material on Biden scheduled for early next week.
His previous material dump failed to show any misconduct by Biden.
'Russia-Linked' Individuals, Including Ukrainian Lawmaker, Blacklisted Over U.S. Election Interference