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Ex-Justice Official Praises FBI-Ukraine Cooperation in Kidnapping Case but Blasts Trump

By Allan Lengel

A former Justice Department official on Thursday praised the cooperation between the FBI and Ukraine for the indictment and arrest of an Afghan national charged with kidnapping former New York Times reporter David Rohde in 2008.

At the same time, Steven Pelak, the former chief of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department, criticized President Donald Trump for putting such cooperation between the FBI and Ukraine in jeopardy. The suspect was arrested in Ukraine and transferred Tuesday to the U.S. where he made an initial federal court appearance in New York before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang on Wednesday.

David Rohde

“The President’s foreign bribery scheme and obstruction of justice put such efforts at risk,” Pelak tells ticklethewire.com. “By seeking to abuse the criminal justice system in Ukraine and the U.S. for personal gain, Mr Trump put the day-to-day good faith working relationships of U.S. and Ukrainian law enforcement at risk. 

“Over time, such relationships are built and persist only with honesty and the rule of law.  That is an important part of the story and lesson,” Pelak said, of the efforts to coerce Ukrainian officials to obtain false evidence against Biden.

According to authorities, in November 2008,  Haji Najibullah, 44, of Afghanistan and his co-conspirators, armed with machineguns, kidnapped the Rohde and two Afghan nationals who were assisting him.

Ex-DOJ official Steven Pelak

About five days later, Najibullah and others forced the three hostages to hike across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where they were held hostage for seven months.

During their captivity, Najibullah and others forced the victims to make numerous calls and videos seeking help. In one video, Rohde was forced to beg for his life while a guard pointed a machinegun at his face.

Rohde, who now works for the New Yorker, and one of the other captives escaped. The third person stayed behind.

“Whether someone commits a violent act against an American citizen here at home or overseas, we’ll never stop aggressively pursuing charges against them and, when necessary, seeking their transfer to U.S. custody,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI William F. Sweeney Jr said in a statement.  “Najibullah’s reprehensible actions over a decade ago earned him a flight to the U.S. yesterday. Today he arrived in U.S. federal court to face our justice system.”

Two other defendants in the case are still at large.

It was “great work by the FBI with an assist by Ukraine,” said Pelak, who also worked at one time as an assistant U.S Attorney in the D.C. office handling terrorism. He currently practices law in D.C. with the firm Holland & Hart.


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