A senior U.S. Senate official who has long expressed his views on Russia policy is under investigation by Congress over his frequent trips to war zones in Ukraine and what he says is the provision of $30,000 worth of sniper equipment to the Ukrainian military. 

This is reported by The New York Times. 

A foreign agent?

That staffer, Kyle Parker, is a senior adviser to the US Senate on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission.

The commission is headed by members of Congress and staffed by congressmen's assistants.

It has influence on issues of democracy and security and actively supports Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission's director and general counsel, seen by The New York Times, said the equipment transfer could make Parker an unregistered foreign agent.

The report alleges that Parker traveled to the front lines in Ukraine wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and recruited a Ukrainian official to receive a stipend from the US government, despite the objections of US Congressional ethics and security officials.

And that raised the question of whether he was "knowingly or unknowingly targeted and used by a foreign intelligence agency," citing unspecified "counterintelligence matters" that must be referred to the FBI.

A representative for Parker said he did nothing wrong.

He said Parker was the target of a "retaliation campaign" for allegations of wrongdoing against the report's authors.

The report so alarmed the panel's chairman, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, that he recommended Parker be fired to protect national security, the documents show.

He referred to "serious alleged improper actions involving Ukrainian and other foreign persons."

Parker remains on the commission pending what three U.S. officials have called a wide-ranging investigation into staff conduct, including allegations in the report and accusations by Parker against commission Executive Director Stephen Schrage and attorney Michael Geffroy, who wrote the report.

An external law firm is conducting the investigation, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity about the progress of the ongoing investigation.

It is not known whether Congress has referred concerns to the FBI, as the report recommended.

The misconduct investigation interrupted the work of the Helsinki Commission at a dangerous time for Ukraine and its relations with Congress.

The country has failed in the war with Russia and is in desperate need of more money and weapons.

Republicans threaten to block $60 billion in additional aid.

The scandal could jeopardize future aid to Ukraine

In his letter, Wilson warned that the scandal in the commission could jeopardize "future aid to Ukraine."

The Helsinki Commission is a key pro-Ukrainian voice both on Capitol Hill and in Europe.

Parker is one of her oldest assistants.

In foreign policy circles, he is known as the driving force behind the 2012 human rights law, the Magnitsky Act, inspired by the death of Russian anti-corruption fighter Sergei Magnitsky.

The report raises the question that Parker's ardent support for Ukraine crosses ethical and legal lines, and that he, as a US public servant, could have acted as an agent of Ukraine.

Through his representative, Parker denied this.

Visits to war zones

Parker is one of many Americans who arrived in Ukraine after Russia invaded in 2022.

Some of them offered money and supplies or fought side by side with Ukrainian soldiers.

Others were dishonest, incompetent, or preoccupied with internal strife.

In lectures, podcasts and social media posts, Parker has said that since the invasion began in February 2022, he has traveled to Ukraine at least seven times, including to war zones, calling himself "the most widely traveled American official in Ukraine during wartime." .

On behalf of my colleagues @HelsinkiComm, I went to #Dnipro to pay respects to the victims of Russia's terrorist attack on innocent civilians and to strengthen my resolve to do whatever I can to hasten Ukraine's total victory, restoration of its 1991 borders, and reconstruction .

pic.twitter.com/kUtDcABjgb

— Kyle Parker ‍☠️ (@kyleparkernet) January 27, 2023

With the Armed Forces of #Ukraine about 100 meters from the 1st line of defense around #Soledar.

In my 7 trips since February 24, this is the first I've been close enough to the zero line to hear small arms fire (audible towards the end of the clip).

Should have had my helmet on.

pic.twitter.com/9hC8iZDRRP

— Kyle Parker ‍☠️ (@kyleparkernet) February 2, 2023

In the photos from these trips on social networks, he is depicted in camouflage and with the insignia of Ukrainian units.

In one photo, he wears a badge of the regional military administration.

On the other - in camouflage and with a patch of the Ukrainian drone unit.

On another, he says that he is "planning the liberation" of Luhansk with a Ukrainian official.

Three huys diverged in a yellow field, and sorry I could not travel all three… pic.twitter.com/YbAllLHFBC

— Kyle Parker ‍☠️ (@kyleparkernet) January 24, 2023

Remains of the occupation at Kherson's liberated #Chornobaivka airport, which became a symbol of Russian ineptitude and a rallying cry for free #Ukraine.

pic.twitter.com/foKxV8vYFP

— Kyle Parker ‍☠️ (@kyleparkernet) February 1, 2023

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

"Parker's unofficial trips and his positioning in the media as a foreign military officer raise additional legal and ethical issues amid reports of corruption in the Ukrainian army," the report says.

A representative for Parker provided written responses to questions on Parker's behalf on the condition that his name not be disclosed.

He said that "American and Ukrainian security experts" advised Parker to wear camouflage near the front and that he never wore the insignia of the military units he accompanied.

He said the urination was a "personal expression of anger and grief" after witnessing evidence of Russian brutality.

A representative for Mr. Parker said these were not official trips.

But Parker spoke publicly as if they were official.

Some of those who traveled with him said they believed he was on state business.

The commission published his photo in besieged Kherson.

This Women's History Month, we are highlighting #ProfilesOfCourage — brave women who have been tirelessly fighting for Ukrainian victory.

Today, we honor @Ira_Joconda, who serves in a volunteer reconnaissance unit & is seen here w/ our @kyleparkernet in #Kherson in January.

pic.twitter.com/wtL3u4ojVG

— US Helsinki Commission (@HelsinkiComm) March 20, 2023

During a lecture at the University of Maine in April 2023, Parker said he was motivated to travel to Ukraine to help advise American policymakers after the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv before the Russian invasion.

Visiting the front lines in Ukraine is not illegal, despite warnings from the State Department.

"I am not accountable to the State Department," he added.

"We are an independent agency."

He told congressional officials that at least part of his trips were aimed at persuading family remaining in Ukraine to leave, according to two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the investigation.

A representative for Parker said he helped the family evacuate.

Parker said he traveled to the front lines.

American officials rarely go to the front, and only with increased security.

William B. Taylor Jr., a former US ambassador to Ukraine, said such expeditions are particularly risky.

"If you're in the government or have some kind of propaganda value to the Russians," he said, "the benefit has to be very, very high."

When the war broke out in 2022, with Parker as staff director, he said the commission had gone on “military lines” and no longer had to follow rules about reporting travel or contacts with foreign officials, the report said.

A representative for Parker denied this.

The report states that Parker hired an aide to a member of the Ukrainian parliament as an employee of the commission, despite "objections regarding personnel security, ethics and law."

The assistant's name is not specified in the message.

The Times identified him as Andrii Bondarenko, who said in reports that he held the unpaid position for about a month in late 2022.

"The idea was to understand how Congress works," he said.

Bondarenko said that he is currently serving in the Ukrainian army.

Sniper equipment 

Parker's lecture in Maine caused alarm in the commission.

The report relied on public records of an event in which Parker talked about receiving equipment for Ukrainian snipers.

In the recording, he said a relative in Ukraine gave him $30,000 raised by veterans and volunteers, which he used to buy rangefinders on Amazon and ballistic wind sensors from a manufacturer in Philadelphia.

He said he delivered them to Kharkiv on the Easter weekend of 2022 "to guys who are going to fight snipers on the front lines."

Rangefinders are specialized binoculars or monoculars.

Wind gauges help calculate weather parameters for alignment shots.

Exports of such equipment are not necessarily restricted, although supplies of complex models may be restricted.

Parker said he complies with export laws.

"You cannot go to warring Ukraine with an empty suitcase," he said.