April 19, 2024

A senior Capitol Hill staff member who is a longtime voice on Russia policy is under congressional investigation over his frequent trips to Ukraine’s war zones and providing what he said was $30,000 in sniper gear to its military, documents show.

The staff member, Kyle Parker, is the senior Senate adviser for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. The commission is led by members of Congress and staffed by congressional aides. It is influential on matters of democracy and security and has been vocal in supporting Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission’s director and general counsel, which The New York Times reviewed, said that the equipment transfer could make Mr. Parker an unregistered foreign agent. It said that Mr. Parker had traveled Ukraine’s front lines wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and had hired a Ukrainian official for a U.S. government fellowship over the objections of congressional ethics and security officials.

And it raised the possibility that he was “wittingly or unwittingly being targeted and exploited by a foreign intelligence service,” citing unspecified “counterintelligence issues” that should be referred to the F.B.I.

A representative for Mr. Parker said he had done nothing wrong. He said Mr. Parker was the target of a “campaign of retaliation” for making accusations of misconduct against the report’s authors.

The report so troubled the commission’s chairman, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, that he recommended Mr. Parker be fired to protect national security, records show. He cited “serious alleged improper acts involving Ukrainian and other foreign individuals.”

“I urgently recommend you secure his immediate resignation or termination,” Mr. Wilson, a supporter of Ukraine, wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to the commission’s Democratic co-chairman, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland. Mr. Parker’s representative said he had not been asked to resign, and had no plans to.

Mr. Parker remains on the commission pending what three U.S. officials described as a broad investigation into staff conduct, including the accusations in the report and accusations from Mr. Parker against the commission’s executive director, Steven Schrage, and counsel, Michael Geffroy, who wrote the report.

The investigation is being led by an outside law firm, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the continuing inquiry. It is unclear whether Congress referred concerns to the F.B.I., as the report recommended.

The misconduct investigation has disrupted the Helsinki Commission at a perilous time for Ukraine and its relationship with Congress. The country has suffered setbacks in its war with Russia and is desperate for more money and weapons. Republicans are threatening to block $60 billion in additional aid.

In his letter, Mr. Wilson warned that scandal at the commission could jeopardize “future Ukraine aid.”

The Helsinki Commission is a key pro-Ukraine voice, both on Capitol Hill and in Europe. Mr. Parker is one of its longest-serving aides. He is known in foreign-policy circles as a driving force behind a 2012 human rights law, the Magnitsky Act, inspired by the death of the Russian anticorruption crusader Sergei L. Magnitsky.

The report raises the prospect that Mr. Parker’s strident support for Ukraine crossed ethical or legal lines and that he, a U.S. government employee, might have been functioning as an agent of Ukraine. Through his representative, Mr. Parker denied that.

Representatives for Mr. Cardin and Mr. Wilson referred questions to the Office of the House Employment Counsel, which did not respond to messages.

Mr. Parker is one of many Americans who poured into Ukraine after Russia’s 2022 invasion. Some offered money and supplies or fought alongside Ukrainian soldiers. Others were dishonest, incompetent or preoccupied with internecine squabbles.

In lectures, podcasts and social media posts, Mr. Parker said he had traveled to Ukraine at least seven times since the invasion began in February 2022, including to combat zones, describing himself as “the most well-traveled American official in wartime Ukraine.”

Social media photographs from those trips show him wearing camouflage and the insignia of Ukrainian units. In one picture, he wears a provincial military administration’s patch. In another, he wears camouflage and a Ukrainian drone unit patch. In another, he says he is “plotting the liberation” of Luhansk with a Ukrainian official.

One video obtained by The Times shows him cutting up a Russian hat and urinating on it.

“Mr. Parker’s unofficial travel and media promoting himself as a foreign military interlocutor raise further legal and ethical concerns amid reported Ukrainian military corruption,” the report said.

Mr. Parker’s representative provided written answers to questions on behalf of Mr. Parker on the condition that he not be identified. He said that “American and Ukrainian security experts” had advised Mr. Parker to wear camouflage near the front and that he had never worn the insignia of the military units that he was accompanying.

He said the urination was “a personal expression of rage and grief” after witnessing evidence of Russian brutality.

Mr. Parker’s representative said these were not official trips. But Mr. Parker has publicly spoken as if they were. Some of those who traveled with him said they believed that he was on government business. The commission published a photograph of him in the besieged city of Kherson.

In an April 2023 lecture at the University of Maine, Mr. Parker said that, after the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv before Russia’s invasion, he was motivated to go to Ukraine to help advise American policymakers.

“We have almost no eyes on the ground, no presence,” he said, according to a recording by The Bangor Daily News, which covered the event and provided audio to The Times. “So, you know, I feel like that makes the travel even more important, to be able to say, ‘Hey, here’s what I’ve seen.’”

It is not illegal to visit Ukraine’s front lines, despite State Department warnings against doing so.

“I don’t answer to the State Department,” he added. “We’re an independent agency.”

He told congressional officials that least some of his travels were to persuade family he has in Ukraine to leave, according to two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the inquiry. Mr. Parker’s representative said he had helped family evacuate.

Mr. Parker has said he drove to the front lines. American officials rarely go to the front, and only with heavy security.

William B. Taylor Jr., a former top U.S. envoy in Ukraine, said such expeditions were particularly risky. “If you’re in the government or have some propaganda value to the Russians,” he said, “the benefits have to be very, very high.”

As staff director when the war broke out in 2022, Mr. Parker said the commission was on “war footing” and no longer had to follow rules about reporting travel or contacting foreign officials, the report said. Mr. Parker’s representative denied this.

The report said Mr. Parker hired a Ukrainian Parliament aide as a commission fellow, despite “staff security, ethics and legal objections.”

The report did not name the aide. The Times identified him as Andrii Bondarenko, who said in messages that he had held an unpaid position for about a month in late 2022..

“The idea was to understand how Congress works,” he said. Mr. Bondarenko said he currently served in the Ukrainian military.

Mr. Parker’s lecture in Maine raised alarm at the commission.

The report relied on public accounts of the event, during which Mr. Parker described obtaining equipment for Ukrainian snipers.

In the recording, he said a relative in Ukraine had given him $30,000 raised by veterans and volunteers, which he had used to buy range finders from Amazon and ballistic wind gauges from a Philadelphia-area manufacturer.

He said he delivered them to Kharkiv on Easter weekend 2022 to “guys who are going to take it up with the snipers in the front.” Range fingers are specialized binoculars or monoculars. Wind gauges help calculate weather variables to line up shots.

Exporting such equipment is not necessarily restricted, though delivering sophisticated models could be. Mr. Parker said he followed export laws.

“You never go into wartime Ukraine with an empty suitcase,” he said.

Aishvarya Kavi and Rebecca Davis O’Brien contributed reporting.

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