Fake News: Axios, ABC News Withdraw False Reports on Ukraine Phone Call

Ukrainian member of parliament Serhiy Leshchenko holds pages showing allegedly signings of payments to Paul Manafort from an illegal shadow accounting book of the party of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in Kyiv on Aug. 19, 2016. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)
Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Both Axios and ABC News were forced to backpedal after falsely claiming that Serhiy Leshchenko, who they reported to be a current “adviser” to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, informed Zelensky that discussion of Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings was a prerequisite to speak with President Donald Trump.

ABC News originally reported that Ukranian administration officials and advisers, including Leshchenko, believed that discussing the Biden case was imperative to having a meaningful discussion with the President of the United States.

“The Trump administration’s alleged insistence that the two leaders discuss a prospective investigation into Biden, one of the president’s political opponents, casts his July 25 conversation with Zelenskiy in a new light,” ABC News reported.

ABC News quoted Leshchenko as saying, “Ukrainian officials were asking for a meeting with Trump for a long time. As I remember, it was a clear fact that Trump wants to meet only if Biden case will be included.”

“This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood,” he added, according to ABC News.

Axios picked up on ABC News’s reporting, repeating the claim. However, the original assertion is false, as Zelensky has not served as an adviser for Zelensky and has been “distanced by the administration” in recent months. He was not working with the administration at the time of the July 25 phone call.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Christopher Miller reiterated that point, and added that Leshchenko said he did not tell ABC that a discussion of Biden’s investigation served as a precondition for the conversation.

ABC News issued the following correction, but it did not address Miller’s claim of Leshchenko’s denial. However, it did include the fact that Leshchenko has been “distanced by the administration”:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Serhiy Leshchenko as a current advisor to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Leshchenko advised Zelenskiy’s transition team following his election in April but has since been distanced by the administration. He is no longer advising Zelenskiy.

Axios also followed up with a correction, but it did not – as of 12 p.m. EST Thursday – delete its original tweet.

“CORRECTION: We have updated the story to reflect that Serhiy Leschenko is no longer an adviser to the Ukrainian president as ABC News first reported,” Axios tweeted:

Axios attempted to dismiss the original concerns by citing the “whistleblower” complaint, which is based entirely on hearsay– not a firsthand account.

The corrections undermine the accusatory premise of the entire story, which essentially alleges that Trump used a carrot and stick approach in order to recruit the Ukranian leader to investigate one of his potential political enemies. Not only is the original report wrong, but the unredacted transcript released Wednesday, which details the conversation between the two leaders, shows no such “pressure” or quid pro quo. Despite that, Democrats are using the complaint as the primary basis for their impeachment inquiry, which remains widely unpopular among American voters.

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