US sanctions Russia-linked disinformation network for involvement in attempts to influence US election
Posted January 11, 2021 4:21 p.m. EST
CNN — The US announced sanctions Monday against a group of Russian-linked Ukrainians, including two people who worked closely with Trump allies to discredit President-elect Joe Biden during the 2020 election campaign.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against seven individuals and four entities "that are part of a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" accused Russian agent Andrii Derkach, designating them for their involvement in efforts to try to influence the election.
"Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in his own statement. "The United States will continue to aggressively defend the integrity of our election systems and processes."
The Trump administration sanctioned Derkach in September, accusing him of being an "active Russian agent" who was part of Moscow's efforts to interfere in the 2020 campaign. Derkach has close ties to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and was singled out earlier this summer by the US intelligence community for helping Moscow's ongoing efforts to weaken Biden.
Monday's announcement again shows that some parts of the US government are cracking down on Russia's attempts to interfere in US elections and undermine Biden, even after Trump openly embraced the Russian effort, did not speak out against it and continues to make the baseless claim that Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.
Derkach was part of a small group of Ukrainian political figures who injected themselves into the 2020 election by promoting dubious claims of corruption against Biden and releasing alleged audiotapes from Biden's diplomatic work as vice president.
"Former Ukraine Government officials Konstantin Kulyk, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, Andriy Telizhenko, and current member of the Ukrainian parliament Oleksandr Dubinsky, have publicly appeared with or affiliated themselves with Derkach through the coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent or unsubstantiated allegations involving a U.S. political candidate," Pompeo said in a statement Monday.
Pompeo did not mention Biden by name in his statement of almost 300 words. Neither did Mnuchin, whose statement ran just over 800 words.
Telizhenko's US visa was revoked in October of last year. Like Derkach, Telizhenko is also an ally of Giuliani.
"They have made repeated public statements advancing malicious narratives that U.S. Government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine," Pompeo said Monday.
"These efforts and narratives are consistent with or in support of Derkach's objectives to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election," he continued. "As such, these individuals have been designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign influence in an attempt to undermine the 2020 U.S. elections."
Monday's announcement once again shows how Trump and his most ardent GOP allies are out of step with official efforts by the President's administration to crack down on Russian meddling.
Despite the September sanctions against Derkach and an earlier warning in August from the nation's top election official that Russia and Derkach were working to undermine Biden, Trump re-tweeted material from Derkach during the 2020 campaign.
Giuliani repeatedly spread discredited information from Derkach. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson used his perch as the GOP chairman of a Senate committee to promote false allegations that Telizhenko levied against Biden and other Democrats.
The new sanctions are also a serious rebuke for the pro-Trump network OANN, which featured a propaganda-style documentary series during Trump's first impeachment featuring Giuliani, Derkach and Telizhenko. The network gave these figures an unchecked platform to lie about the Biden family.
The cleavages were even seen in the Treasury Department's press release on Monday. The release encouraged Americans to seek credible information about the election from the "rumor control" website run by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Trump fired that agency's chief, Chris Krebs, after the election after Krebs used the agency's "rumor control" page to debunk Trump's conspiracy theories about voter fraud and election-rigging.
Trump still refuses to unequivocally acknowledge Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help his campaign, an assessment long confirmed by US intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On Monday, Pompeo outlined a few of the front companies Derkach and his associates used.
"NabuLeaks, Era-Media, Only News, and Skeptik TOV are media front companies in Ukraine that disseminate false narratives at the behest of Derkach's and his associates," he said.
"They are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for being owned or controlled by Derkach or his media team. Today's action also includes the designation of Petro Zhuravel, Dmytro Kovalchuk, and Anton Simonenko for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Derkach."
Monday's designations mean that all property and interests in property that belong to the men and are subject to US jurisdiction are frozen and that US citizens are "generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," the Treasury Department said. Additionally, any entities that are majority-owned by one or more designated people are also blocked.