American Values

September 23, 2019

A number of years ago, one of Russia's premier investigative journalists related to me a trick of the trade. In the run-up to publication of a big story, reporters are hidden outside of Moscow. It is the days before a paper hits the newsstands that are the most dangerous. Journalists are often killed not because they have already revealed public or corporate corruption, but because they are about to do so.

I remembered that conversation after Rudy Giuliani's pathetic parade of lies on CNN last week. In the course of defending his client's indefensible behavior, Giuliani smeared Serhiy Leshchenko—Ukraine's premier investigative journalist and a former member of parliament—and the outstanding Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), falsely claiming that they had produced bogus documents to implicate Paul Manafort in crimes he supposedly did not commit. In fact, the so-called "black ledger of the Party of Regions" was real, as were Manafort's crimes. (Robert Mackey has a great run-down at the Intercept; see also Leshchenko's op-ed in the Washington Post.)

Fighting the good fight

I happen to know Leshchenko a bit; I have also met AntAC’s founders Daria Kaleniuk and Vitaliy Shabunin. They and a handful of others like them are the real heroes of contemporary Ukraine, fighting for some semblance of probity and transparency. I have tried to imagine myself in their shoes, and I just can’t. It requires a particular combination of physical courage and personal indignation to take on a corrupt oligarchy and their proxies in government.

Once upon a time, we would have said that people like Leshchenko, Kaleniuk, and Shabunin represented "American values"—of honesty, good government, and democratic accountability. Needless to say, America has often failed to live up to those values, over which the United States in any event has no monopoly. Still, it is jarring—sorry, appalling—to see the personal lawyer of the president of the United States accusing the good guys of the very behavior they have pledged to fight. Doing so not only sows confusion among American citizens, which is of course the goal, but also puts Ukrainian civil society at greater risk than it already is. Shame on you, Rudolph Giuliani. You could learn a lot from Ukrainians about what it means to have the right values.