Republicans grimace as Ukrainian-born colleague defeats Zelenskyy

They fear Spartz’s public rift with Zelenskyy – and his accusations of corruption involving his closest aides – could portend future cracks in US support for Ukraine, especially in the run-up to the midterm elections.

“His naivety hurts our own people,” said a GOP lawmaker who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about a colleague. “It’s not helpful for what we’re trying to do and I’m not sure his facts are accurate… We’ve vetted these guys.” The Republican warned that Sparta’s comments could “harm” the war effort.

Asked about Spartz’s remarks, a senior House Republican official who was granted anonymity for the same reason replied bluntly, “What the fuck.”

A Third House Republican on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Spartz said she has a reputation for shoving her way into briefings and committee meetings she doesn’t belong to, like the Foreign Affairs panel , where several members attempted to respond to his comments behind closed doors.

The Biden administration is even getting involved — another sign of growing concerns that Spartz’s comments could hurt the cohesion of the Western coalition in defense of Kyiv. A Foreign Affairs Committee aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US intelligence community planned to brief Spartz on its claims in a classified setting on Friday morning.

While Zelenskyy’s political opponents have openly applauded Sparta, domestic political wrangling is largely sidelined as the country fights for survival. Longstanding concerns of Western nations over corruption in Ukraine, a feature of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment, have also been set aside in the interest of fostering national and international unity against the invasion. of Russia.

Sparta is digging up old dirt on Zelenskyy and his advisers at a time when Ukraine’s future as an independent nation may hinge on its alliance with him, critics say.

“I don’t share his criticisms,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), who has worked with Sparta on Ukraine-related legislation. “I believe that the Zelenskyy government and the Ukrainian people have stood up for the moment. It is in the interest of our national security to stand with the people of Ukraine and their elected leaders.

In statements and interviews, Spartz has pushed for better monitoring of US weapons entering Ukraine – an issue that has drawn bipartisan scrutiny.

But she also accused Zelensky of “playing politics” and not “understanding” the seriousness of the conflict. And she launched a crusade against her chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, accusing the president’s top aide of being in Russia’s pocket.

In the process of speaking out, she raised years-old allegations, many of which Zelenskyy’s political enemies have tossed about in the past without factual basis. She has publicly stated that she believes Yermak should be fired for inhibiting the war effort – even as others say Sparta’s own actions undeniably hinder him.

Spartz declined to answer questions on the reporting of this story, but his office provided a written statement to POLITICO that defends his criticisms of the Zelenskyy government. (She has already given Yermak and others the responsibility of proving her wrong.)

And she shows no signs of regret.

“Having grown up in Ukraine and visited six times since the start of the war, I have a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground,” Spartz said. “The stakes are too high to react without deliberation – as expected for our institution.”

As she takes on top Zelenskyy aides, the first-term Republican has already made headlines for her low staff retention rate. Current and former aides described to POLITICO a hostile work environment in which Spartz repeatedly berates its employees.

The 43-year-old’s Zelenskyy-gadfly persona this summer marks a stark turnaround from her March 1 post, when she made an impassioned, tearful plea for the Biden administration to respond with more strength to the crisis unfolding in his homeland. As Spartz described the struggle of some family members to survive Russia’s bloody onslaught, House GOP leaders and dozens of rank-and-file members stood behind her, dressed in blue and yellow to match the Ukrainian flag. , nodding in agreement.

More than four months later, there are far fewer signals at the conference that she is an authoritative voice on the issue. Spartz’s latest posturing privately baffles many of his colleagues, although none of them want to publicly rebuke a colleague about Ukraine – especially given his personal ties to the situation – as the Russian attack itself becomes more politically thorny within the GOP.

Spartz has defenders among House Republicans, but many of them avoided her remarks to say in general that she is well-meaning and passionate about the issue.

“Victoria has been a strong advocate for providing the people of Ukraine with the tools they need to push back against Putin,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a news conference this week. “She is very passionate about it. And at the end of the day, I know from all the conversations I’ve had with her that her heart and soul are tied to helping the people of Ukraine repel Putin’s military assault on that country.

Spartz declined to name sources for his allegations of inappropriate behavior by Yermak and Zelenskyy’s government. Meanwhile, they continue to provoke significant reactions not only from Ukrainian officials, but also from Americans like former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who is work directly with Yermak on sanctions policy.

“Yermak certainly does not strike me as pro-Russian. He is fiercely anti-Putin and his barbaric regime,” McFaul said in an interview. “If so, why would he encourage our group to think of new and creative ways to sanction the Russians? And why then would the Russian government sanction many members of our task force, including even my research assistant? »

Christopher Miller contributed to this report.


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