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Misleading Narrative About a Supposed ‘Ukrainian Arms Dealer’


Quick Take

An online story says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff “are both connected to a Ukrainian arms dealer” through a 2013 fundraiser. But the supposed “Ukrainian arms dealer” owns a California company that primarily develops airships, including for the U.S. government. He has donated to both parties — not just the Democrats.


Full Story

A headline on the Gateway Pundit website claims: “SPEAKER PELOSI AND ADAM SCHIFF Connected to Prominent Ukrainian Arms Dealer – PHOTOS.” Directly below that is a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shaking hands with Randy Credico, a comedian and former radio show host.

Later in the story, the same photo of Pelosi and Credico is used again, with the claim that Pelosi and a “Ukraine arms dealer” met at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser.

But there is no “Ukrainian arms dealer” in the photo, and the photo was not taken at a political fundraiser.

The photo in the Gateway Pundit story was actually taken at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Pelosi can be seen wearing the same outfit in other photos from that event, and Credico, who tweeted the picture that was later used in the Gateway Pundit story, detailed his experience that night, including his brief conversation with Pelosi, on an internet talk show shortly after the dinner.

Asked how he felt about the suggestion that he’s a “Ukrainian arms dealer,” Credico told us, “You might as well say Groucho Marx was a Ukrainian arms dealer.”

Credico said he was booted from the press event, joking, “A Ukrainian arms dealer keeping a low profile getting kicked out of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

The Gateway Pundit story is based largely on a September blog post from Yaacov Apelbaum, who runs a company called XRVision. Apelbaum uses the photo of Pelosi and Credico in his blog post, “How to Finance Your Congressional Campaign with Arms Sales.”

Like the Gateway Pundit story, Apelbaum’s post is actually not about Credico, despite the use of the comedian’s photo.

The Gateway Pundit’s story and Apelbaum’s post are about a man by the name of Igor Pasternak, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Ukraine and owns an aircraft business in California. Pasternak’s business also has manufactured some small arms for Ukrainian troops in the country’s fight against pro-Russia separatists after the 2014 revolution.

Apelbaum’s post includes a photo purporting to be Pasternak’s home with this caption: “Igor Pasternak’s luxury home in DC where in 2013 Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi used Igor Pasternak to host and fundraise for Schiff’s congressional election.”

It’s true that Pasternak hosted a fundraiser for Schiff in 2013, but Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said she didn’t attend. He checked her calendar for that year during a phone interview with us and confirmed that she didn’t go.

The other photos used in the Gateway Pundit story came from Apelbaum, too, and Pasternak can be seen in some of them. Apelbaum told us through email that his company used facial recognition technology to identify Pasternak — although incorrectly in Credico’s case.

Pelosi has met Pasternak, though. There’s a photo of them in the foyer of a congressional office building during an art exhibit in 2015.

But the description of Pasternak as a “Ukrainian arms dealer” is exaggerated, as is portraying him solely as a Democratic donor. He has given to members of both parties.

Pasternak, who is the founder and CEO of an aircraft company called Aeros, was born in Kazakhstan, and lived in Ukraine before moving to the U.S. in 1993, according to his biography on his company’s website.

“Me as arms dealer,” he said in a phone interview, is a “complete fantasy.”

His company did work with the Ukrainian government in 2017 to develop a rifle that could use the old Soviet ammunition that is plentiful there, as well as ammunition approved by NATO, according to press reports at the time.

That year, his company made five guns and exported 20, according to the 2017 Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The full 2018 report hasn’t been released.

Pasternak estimated that firearms make up 0.0001% of his business. “We are an engineering company,” he said, explaining that the company’s focus is on developing cargo airships.

That assertion is supported by the contracts Aeros has had with the federal government, most of which are for aircraft-related goods. The company’s largest federal contract is with NASA for airship development. From 2008 to 2014, Aeros had been paid $57 million for that project, according to the federal government’s contract summary.

The claims made in the Gateway Pundit story about Pasternak being a “Ukraine arms dealer” were amplified when Fox News host Laura Ingraham did a segment about Pasternak on her show, “The Ingraham Angle.”

Ingraham suggested that Schiff was influenced by Pasternak after the 2013 fundraiser, saying, “Now, before this time, Schiff rarely, if ever, mentioned Ukraine. But after the fundraiser, he used multiple television appearances to basically demand that we send money and arms to them.” She then showed clips of Schiff in 2014 and 2015 advocating support for Ukraine.

What she didn’t mention is that in 2014 a revolution overthrew the pro-Russia Ukrainian government and Russia seized Crimea, which is part of Ukraine. The U.S. responded by imposing sanctions against Russia and offering aid to Ukraine with bipartisan support. Schiff was among 385 members of Congress (194 Republicans and 191 Democrats) who voted to pass a bill providing assistance to Ukraine in early 2014.

As for his campaign contributions, Pasternak has a history of donating to both Democrats and Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission records. For example, during the 2016 presidential election cycle, he gave $2,700 to Marco Rubio’s campaign committee and $2,000 to Jeb Bush’s campaign committee as they battled for the Republican nomination. Then he gave $2,700 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign committee before she clinched the Democratic nomination.

He also gave to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s campaign committees, and attended the 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump. One of the photos that Apelbaum posted showed Pasternak in the crowd at the inauguration — it came from an interactive, high resolution photo created by CNN. Pasternak confirmed to us that he attended the inauguration.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Hoft, Joe. “BREAKING UPDATE: SPEAKER PELOSI AND ADAM SCHIFF Connected to Prominent Ukrainian Arms Dealer – PHOTOS.” The Gateway Pundit. 29 Sep 2019.

The Jimmy Dore Show. “Comedian Handcuffed & Ejected From White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” YouTube. 1 May 2018.

Credico, Randy. Comedian. Phone interview. 10 Oct 2019.

Apelbaum, Yaacov. Founder, XRVision. Email interview. 30 Sep 2019.

Stolar, Martin. Lawyer for Randy Credico. Phone and email interview. 9 Oct 2019.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report — 2017. 30 Jan 2017.

Congressional Research Service. “Ukraine: Background, Conflict with Russia, and U.S. Policy.” Updated 19 Sep 2019.