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U.S. Lawyer Spent Nearly $100,000 To Boost Zelenskiy's Image In Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

WASHINGTON -- An American attorney spent nearly $100,000 out of his own pocket to boost the profile of Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Washington shortly before -- and after -- he won the Ukrainian presidency in a landslide.

Marcus Cohen spent more than $23,000 on travel, lodging, and food and he shuttled between Washington and Kyiv over a four-month period, according to an October 2 Justice Department foreign-agent filing.

He also paid nearly $70,000 to a lobby firm that organized three days of meetings for him and Zelenskiy campaign members in Washington with State Department officials, think-tank analysts, former congressmen, as well as Donald Trump’s former spokesman Sean Spicer and former campaign staffer Matthew Mowers.

Cohen said in the filing that his work for the Zelenskiy campaign and later administration was not based on any formal written contract -- as is often the case with lobbying efforts -- or verbal agreement.

The attorney "engaged in efforts for the benefit of the Principal on his own initiative, he received no compensation for those efforts, and his collaborations with the Principal resulted from informal understandings that developed on an instance-by-instance basis," the filing said.

The Principal is listed on the filing as "Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- Servant of the People [a reference to the Servant of the People Party he founded]," both as candidate and then president of Ukraine.

Cohen "provided internal advice" to Zelenskiy’s team before and after the election "on proposed and actual interactions with the U.S. government as well as on campaign communications," according to the filing. His point of contact in Zelenskiy’s circle was Ivan Bakanov, the campaign's chief of staff who was later appointed head of the nation’s security service.

Bakanov, 45, is also Zelenskiy's former business partner.

Cohen, who spoke with RFE/RL in an exclusive interview in August about this work, made the filing "at the instruction of the Justice Department." His work ended in June, based on the expense report attached to the filing.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

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