ABC's Bombshell Ukraine Story Falls Apart

Report incorrectly labeled former adviser to Zelensky, source now disputes story

Ukrainian former member of parliament Serhiy Leshchenko / Getty Images
September 26, 2019

An ABC News report that an adviser to the Ukrainian president said any communication with President Donald Trump had to include discussion of former vice president Joe Biden, published Wednesday night, fell apart within hours.

ABC credited its scoop to Serhiy Leshchenko, a former member of Ukraine's parliament and former adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Leshchenko now disputes the story, denying he told ABC News that discussion of a potential probe into the Biden family's business activity in the country was a precondition for communication with Trump.

ABC quoted Leshchenko as saying, "it was a clear fact that Trump wants to meet only if Biden case will be included." According to ABC, he added that the Biden case was "raised many times" and "Ukrainian officials understood."

Leshchenko rejected the ABC story just hours after it was published, telling Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Christopher Miller that he "DID NOT tell ABC insistence for leaders to discuss Biden probe was precondition for call." Leshchenko also spoke to BBC's Jonah Fisher, who added that the former Ukrainian official learned of "quid pro quo" rumors "only from media reports."

Though Leshchenko advised the Zelensky administration through its post-election transition, the administration distanced itself from Leshchenko as early as May. He was not advising Zelensky during the July 25 call between Zelensky and Trump.

Several major outlets, including Axios and the Hill, jumped on ABC's scoop. Though ABC News and Axios corrected their articles to note that Leshchenko no longer advises Zelensky, the Hill did not allude to Leshchenko's status at all, referring to him as "an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky."

ABC News added an update Thursday admitting Leshchenko "did not know if officials had viewed discussing Biden as a precondition for a meeting," but still led the story with the original comments suggesting otherwise. Axios did not directly address Leshchenko's dispute and defended the story's underlying claim.

Leshchenko previously told the Financial Times that the majority of Ukraine's politicians are "on Hillary Clinton's side," and a Ukrainian court in 2018 found that Leshchenko illegally interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. An appeals court overturned the ruling against Leshchenko in 2019.

ABC's now-disputed story follows a renewed Democratic push to impeach Trump over a whistleblower complaint related to the phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky. The Ukrainian president on Wednesday called the conversation "normal," adding that "nobody pushed me" to investigate former vice president Biden and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden served on the board of Ukraine's largest private natural gas company during the Obama administration.