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What Oligarch Dmytro Firtash Has To Do With The Ukraine Scandal


Where did President Trump get the information that he hoped would discredit Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and Robert Mueller's investigation? According to reporting by Time and others, that political dirt came from a former Ukrainian prosecutor. It was passed on to Trump allies by a Ukrainian oligarch who is under U.S. indictment. Dmytro Firtash has been living in Vienna for the past five years fighting extradition to Chicago, where the U.S. attorney's office has charged him in a bribery scheme.

We're joined now by Time correspondent Simon Shuster, who's been reporting on this story. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: First, how did Dmytro Firtash become so rich anyway?

SHUSTER: Well, he became a billionaire about 15 years ago in the mid-2000s as a partner to the kremlin in the European gas trade. His company somehow got exclusive rights to buy gas in Russia and resell it in Ukraine and on from there to Western Europe. And that's a very lucrative middleman role that he got with the approval of President Vladimir Putin.

SIMON: What role do you think he might play in - what I'll call - Ukraine-gate?

SHUSTER: Well, the information on that is still coming out. But what we know for sure is that some of the key documents that Rudy Giuliani has been using to defend President Trump and to attack the perceived enemies of President Trump have come from Dmytro Firtash's legal team in Vienna. And these documents, Giuliani has taken them on TV and presented them as evidence for his claims of wrongdoing by Robert Mueller and Joe Biden.

Now, how Firtash got his hands on these documents is an open question. And an even more important question, I think, is what Firtash stands to gain from providing these documents to Giuliani.

SIMON: Well, which suggests the next question - what would be his motive to come up with material that could compromise the Bidens, perhaps the Obama administration?

SHUSTER: It's not clear. His lawyers - you know, I've been asking them that question since September. They have consistently refused to answer, you know, whether they've been promised anything by Giuliani or others perhaps close to the U.S. administration. But...

SIMON: You mean like quashing the indictment in Chicago or something like that?

SHUSTER: Yeah. That seems like a clear possibility of something that he would want. You know, as you said at the top of this conversation, he has been fighting extradition to the United States for five years. His key priority is to avoid being extradited and put on trial in Chicago where he faces these corruption charges. But we don't know at this point whether he's been promised anything related to that prosecution.

SIMON: And what kind of association does he have with Mr. Giuliani?

SHUSTER: Well, the connection goes through a couple of Giuliani's close associates, these two lawyers and TV personalities that would be familiar to any frequent viewer of Fox News - Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova. These two lawyers have been reportedly helping Giuliani in his kind of global search for dirt on Joe Biden and his efforts to discredit the Mueller investigation.

Now, in July, Toensing and diGenova were officially hired as lawyers for Dmytro Firtash, so they now formally work for him and they represent him. And again, they are close allies and associates of Giuliani. So in July, those two teams, effectively, were linked, or even merged, in their various efforts - Firtash on his side trying to avoid extradition, and Giuliani trying to dig up dirt on Trump's enemies.

SIMON: Do we know of any direct connection between Rudy Giuliani and Dmytro Firtash? I mean, would they know each other if they walked into a diner at the same time?

SHUSTER: Well, as part of my reporting I, of course, ran all of this by Giuliani. And in a text message to me, he said two things. He said, I have never met Mr. Firtash, and I do not represent Mr. Firtash. Now, of course, you know, none of my reporting suggests either of those things. But he did not address the relationship that he has with Mr. Firtash through his two associates, Toensing and diGenova. The Firtash legal team has been extremely quiet and cautious in addressing their relationship with Giuliani. They basically have declined to comment on these connections.

SIMON: Time Magazine reporter Simon Shuster, thanks so much.

SHUSTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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