The U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday it is sanctioning Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach for attempting to influence the 2020 presidential election, months after Derkach leaked edited audio purportedly of former Vice President Joe Biden from 2016.
In the audio, which Fox News has not confirmed, Biden tells former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that his country would receive U.S. aid once top prosecutor Viktor Shokin was replaced.
After Derkach released the audio in May, Poroshenko's successor Volodymyr Zelensky called for an investigation into the recordings. Donald Trump Jr. reacted to the audio by saying, "Yikes!!!! This is not a 'perfect conversation,'" referring to the term President Trump has used to describe his infamous conversation with Zelensky that was the basis of Trump's impeachment.
The Treasury Department described the audio release and "other unsupported information" as part of an effort to "discredit U.S. officials."
Derkach levied "unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. and international political figures," according to the department. Pro-Russian lobbyists in the U.S. helped to spread his claims, and "Western media" pushed his "unsubstantiated narratives" by covering news conferences and interviews, the department said.
"Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system."
Treasury described Derkach, a member of Ukraine's Parliament, as "an active Russian agent for over a decade." The influence campaign ran from at least late 2019 through mid-2020, it wrote.
The sanctions come less than a year after Derkach met with President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Kiev. Derkach posted on social media about his December meeting with Giuliani to discuss possible misuse of U.S. taxpayer dollars by the Ukrainian government, Reuters reported at the time.
"I can't think of anything [Derkach] gave me that you could consider meddling in the election," Giuliani told Fox News Thursday. "Indicting [Steve] Bannon is a lot more meddling in the election than this. My best recollection is it was all information we had already. I know I kind of got bored during the deposition because I had already heard it."
"I can't see how you can be accused of meddling in an election that is more than a year away," Giuliani continued. "The only new piece of information he gave … is the report that $5.3 billion in foreign aid [to Ukraine] is unaccounted for, $3 billion of which is American money and a big portion of that went to nongovernmental organizations controlled by George Soros."
Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center Bill Evanina warned in August that Derkach was spreading claims about corruption by leaking the Biden phone calls.
Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., repudiated claims by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, may be using Russian disinformation to move ahead with his investigation into Biden’s family. Blumenthal cited a report that says Johnson had been provided with tapes by Derkach.
Derkach has been active in leveling unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who used to sit on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company. That effort has included publicizing leaked phone calls.
"Johnson's actions are of such concern to the CIA, according to news reports, that the agency has refused to brief him," Blumenthal wrote. "Think of it: Congress may become a forum for debunked conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies."
“It is a flat-out lie that I received the documents from Ukrainians that Democrats keep claiming," Johnson responded. "And they know it. It is unconscionable that Democrats and the press continue to report it."
Fox News' Gregg Re and Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report.