Trump International Hotel, Washington DC
Janhvi Bhojwani | CNBC
Prior to a controversial phone call by President Donald Trump with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky's closest advisers have made contact with Washington, DC, power players, including former senior administration officials.
Prior to their victory in the elections on April 21 this year. Zelensky's campaign hired Signal Group Consulting, a lobbying firm that was initially paid at least $ 60,000 to set up meetings with government officials, according to a news release announcing the lobbying. A little-known American lawyer named Marcus Cohen helped coordinate this private meeting. He paid Signal for his services.
One such meeting was held at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, which became the hub for business leaders and foreign dignitaries when they were in town for meetings with members of Congress or the administration. It came just months before Trump's infamous July phone call to Zelensky that prompted an investigation into the Democrats' impeachment in the House of Representatives. The outcome of the call shows Trump asking Zelenxi if the Ukrainian leader can look at former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Malaysia and Nigeria all stayed at the hotel. T-Mobile executives spent $ 1
Ethics experts say the hotel is an example of a Trump business that sees financial benefits from his presidency. Citizens for Accountability and Ethics recently filed a lawsuit against Trump for failing to distance himself from his hotels and other businesses, making him vulnerable to the urges of bidding officials.
A dinner with Zelensky's assistants was held on April 16, according to people familiar with the matter, Mike Rubino, a former Trump campaign adviser and ex-health and human services representative, and Matt Mowers, at BLT Prime. who worked at the State Department. Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer also spoke at the meeting, but left soon because he had a previous presence. Signal executives were also present at the dinner.
The focus of the lunch was on Zelensky's campaign and did not develop into a discussion about investigating allegations against applicants, according to those who knew about the meeting.  "Honestly, I think Signal tried to hit them," Rubino said in an interview. "I just did it as a favor. I showed up, sat down, ate dinner and left. I didn't talk to anyone because they spoke another language," he said, explaining the reason for the dinner. Rubino added that only later did he learn that Ukrainians were members of Zelensky's team at the meeting.
Spicer called his presence short and that he was introduced to a member of the Zelensky campaign, but could not tell if it was their organization
"They introduced me to the campaign guy," Spicer said in an interview. "I got the impression that they [Signal] were trying to impress this client," he added.
People familiar with the event said that one of the leaders of the "Signal" who was present was Mark Duffy, the group's executive vice president.  A spokesman for Signal reiterated that there had been no discussion of investigating Biden's allegations at any of their April meetings with Zelensky's advisers.
"The Signal Group facilitated a number of meetings with Mr. Cohen and the Servant of People campaign in Washington," said John Proctor, a spokesman for the firm. " At no time during the April visit of the delegation was there any mention of an investigation into Biden's family or any related matter."
A recent lobbying disclosure report identifies Rubino, Spicer, and Duffy as participants in a meeting with Green officials, but does not provide details. The Sensitive Policy Center first reported on the application and noted that the document said Cohen was trying to help Zelensky "with the hope (but not the hope) that any new Ukrainian administration could officially hire [Cohen] for a government position. "
Duffy and representatives of the Trump Organization, along with the Zelensky administration, did not return a request for comment. Mowers declined to comment. The White House did not return a request for comment.
While former Trump administration officials were unable to determine who from Zelensky's orbit in the District of Columbia for lunch, Douglas Bandov said he met with the President's head of staff soon. at the headquarters of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank focusing on free market policy. This meeting took place on the same day as a dinner with former Trump officials.
"Ivan Bakanov, Zelensky's chief of staff, was in the city, doing pre-election tours," Banda, a senior Cato employee, told CNBC. "It was obvious that Zelensky was going to win, and it seems that Bakanov hoped to introduce the president of Washington to the president in the near future," he added. This conversation led to an article in the "National Interest" titled "What Does Volodymyr Zelensky Ukrainian Presidency Look Like?", In which Bandov noted that the Chief of Staff emphasized the need for the President who came to correct corruption.
Jonathan Katz, Senior Fellow at the Marshall German Foundation, a non-party think tank focusing on facilitating US-European cooperation, also met with the Green team this week.
Katz met with at least three political advisers, and they also discussed the issue of quitting corruption in Ukraine if Zelensky wins.