Anyone following the Ukraine situation is familiar with the charge that then US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch allegedly gave Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko a “do not prosecute” list of names during her first meeting with Lutsenko. The charge came out in an article in The Hill by controversial investigative reporter John Solomon on March 20, 2019. (Solomon would subsequently be reclassified as an “opinion” columnist by The Hill.) It would become part of the drumbeat, amplified by Rudy Giuliani, that would lead to Yovanovitch’s early recall from her post on May 6, 2019.
So — are the charges true? Did Yovanovitch provide Lutsenko with a “do not prosecute list?” Lutsenko, who has changed his story on other matters, has changed his story on this one as well.
The Original Claim by Lutsenko that he WAS given a ‘do not prosecute list’
Aside from appearing in the written report, the Hill article includes a video interview of Lutsenko. The context for the interview is discussion of how the US Embassy had supported anti-corruption activists known as the Anti-Corruption Action Center, who had come under investigation by Lutsenko’s office. Solomon reports: The investigation was part of a larger probe by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office into whether $4.4 million in U.S. funds to fight corruption inside the former Soviet republic had been improperly diverted.”
At 00:40 on the timeline Lutsenko answers a question by Solomon in which his Russian language answer is inaudible, but which a professional interpreter translates as “gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute.” Because the underlying Russian is inaudible, it is impossible to verify if the translation is accurate.
While it would seem reasonable to assume the translation to be accurate, subsequent comments by Lutsenko call the translation into question.
Lutsenko walks back the accusation
In an interview with Russian language publication The Babel published under the headline Генпрокурор Юрий Луценко не уходит в отставку on April 17, 2019 ( and a month after the Hill article first appeared and three weeks prior to Yovanovich’s ouster as Ambassador), Lutsenko says the following:
After that, on March 7 [2019, The Hill columnist] offered me this interview. I spoke with him on Skype. All that I said in it is true. There is a clarification regarding the list of [inviolable corrupt officials], which was voiced by Madame Ambassador Marie Jovanovich.
Q: Who did she call? Who was on her list?
. . . .This was not one on one. She was not alone, and I was not alone. Mrs. Jovanovic was interested in the case of [the former deputy prosecutor general] Vitaliy Kasko [whom the prosecutor’s office of Kiev suspected of fraud in the privatization of housing]. . .
According to her, Kasko was an outstanding anti-corruption figure, and the criminal case [against her] discredited anti-corruption. I set out the details [of the case] and explained that I could not open and close the case at will. She also called a number of so-called anti-corruption officials who are involved. She said that this is unacceptable, it will undermine the credibility of anti-corruption activists. I took a piece of paper, recorded the surnames announced and said: “Dictate a list of inviolable persons.” She says: “No, you misunderstood me.” I say: “No, I understood you correctly; Previously, such lists were written [in the Presidential Administration] on Bankova, and you offer new lists from Tankova street [US Embassy].”
The meeting is over. I’m afraid the emotions were not very goodFor an English language account of the Babel interview go to Unian.info
State Department Statements
The US Department of State issued a statement calling it an “outright fabrication.” The US Embassy in Kyiv had a somewhat more convoluted answer, as reported in the Kyiv Post:
“The statement of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General does not correspond to reality and is meant to weaken the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch. . . Such attacks exacerbate our steadfastness to help Ukraine in achieving victory in the battle against corruption,”
I would have to rate the claim as “Partially True/Partially False.” It seems pretty clear that Yovanovich did not herself write a list and hand it to Lutsenko. His clarification is credible, and makes sense. The ambassador was pushing the Prosecutor to stand down on anti-corruption cases against activists whom the US government trusted and held in high regard. Annoyed, Lutsenko wrote the “list” himself, – and Yovanovich clearly balked at providing such a list, while at the same time lobbying for the Prosecutor to back off certain cases.
The bottom line on this one: Both sides should be careful about citing this, as it’s likely that Lutsenko’s revision to the story is closer to the truth, as it is more detailed and is issued as a clarification — but Lutsenko has shown a willingness to change his story on multiple matters, making it hard to know which story to believe.
To my ear, based on years of experience working in the Embassy/Security/Intelligence milieu in which this took place, is that the second interview by Lutsenko is far more credible than the first. Yovanovich’s “don’t ask me for a list” reaction is what I would expect from any professional diplomat, and I suspect when she gives her sworn testimony next week, we will learn that Lutsenko’s clarification is much closer to the truth than the original Solomon article.