At a 2017 briefing, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:
If you’re looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC, who actually coordinated opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy.
Very few people believed her.
For three years, Democrats and the mainstream media have flooded the airwaves with stories about President Trump’s collusion with Russia or his attempts to obstruct the investigation. There were a few voices, very few, who began pointing out the real foreign collusion that occurred throughout 2016. Fox News’ Dan Bongino and The Hill’s John Solomon were two of the earliest to recognize the coordination between corrupt pro-Hillary Clinton Ukrainians and the Democratic National Committee. Although Clinton lost the election, the effects of their interference can still be felt today. Especially for Paul Manafort.
To gain a better understanding of what happened, it’s helpful to know the backstory. No one does a better job of this than writer/commentator Dan Bongino in his book “Spygate.” If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. But I will include relevant excerpts.
A pro-Western Ukrainian lawyer and activist named Alexandra Chalupa stands at the center of this story. She hated Manafort for his role in the re-election of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and his subsequent work for the pro-Russian party in Ukraine.
In early 2016, Manafort reached out to Trump and soon became the chairman of his campaign. Bongino wrote that “due to Manafort’s connections to Russian billionaires and Ukrainian politicians close to Putin, his hiring by Trump fueled whispered speculation that Russian forces controlled the campaign.”
Bongino added that “allegations of Trump-Russia collusion started to gain steam” once Manafort joined the team and that much of this narrative was driven by Alexandra Chalupa.
Chalupa had worked as a consultant for the DNC and for Democratic politicians including several Clinton campaign officials. Between 2004 and 2016, she had earned $412,000 from the DNC, but left to focus on researching or rather “destroying” Manafort. Chalupa had “watched him since 2014.” According to Bongino:
The moment Manafort joined the Trump team, Chalupa alerted the DNC of the “threat” of Russian influence. Chalupa’s sister, Andrea, spread the word on a Ukrainian television show calling Manafort’s hiring a “huge deal” and describing him as the “puppet master of some of the most vile dictators around the world.” His hiring, she said sent a “very, very, very, very, very serious warning bell going off.” This fear was rooted in the belief that Manafort was the mastermind behind Yanukovych’s corruption.
Chalupa was a woman on a mission. Determined to broadcast her message to the world, she began by enlisting the help of journalists. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff came on board and began writing a series of articles which portrayed both Manafort and the Trump campaign in a rather nefarious light. Her strategy was quite effective.
On May 3, 2016, she emailed an associate at the DNC:
I spoke to a delegation of 68 investigative journalists from Ukraine last Wednesday at the Library of Congress…they put me on the program specifically to speak about Paul Manafort and I invited Michael Isikoff who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow since there is a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks.
“Following the event, she and Isikoff headed over to the Ukrainian embassy for a reception,” Bongino wrote.
Chalupa’s smear campaign involved journalists and diplomats as well as contacts inside the DNC. She obviously had many contacts from her years in Washington and her message was easy to sell.
Still, Manafort continued to hang on until August 19th when the New York Times reported that:
Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau found a black ledger in a bank vault abandoned by Yanukovych showing $12 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by Yanukovych’s political party. “Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also include election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles.”
Manafort had no choice but to resign from the campaign. The identity of the leaker remains a mystery to this day. But, considering the news was damaging to Manafort and Trump and helpful to the Hillary campaign, and that Chalupa had devoted herself full-time to the business of destroying Manafort, I suppose we can guess who was behind it.
In 2016, the Ukrainian government was convinced of two things. First they believed that a pro-Ukraine Hillary Clinton administration would benefit their country far more than a pro-Russian Trump administration would. And second, they were sure that Clinton would win the election.
Politico writers Kenneth Vogel and David Stern interviewed Alexandra Chalupa for their January 2017 article. She told them she had developed a network of sources in Kiev and Washington, including investigative journalists, government officials and private intelligence operatives. She also said that Ukrainian government officials gave her information to pass along to the DNC. She later denied both of these statements.
Recall that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had previously bailed out the DNC financially and essentially controlled it.
(After reading the Politico story, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-OH) grew concerned about Chalupa’s activities and wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who did not respond.
Grassley wrote: “Chalupa’s actions appear to show that she was simultaneously working on behalf of a foreign government, Ukraine, and on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign, in an effort to influence not only the US voting population, but US government officials.”
Grassley wanted to know why she hadn’t been required to register under FARA. He also questioned why other Clinton confidantes such as Sidney Blumenthal, John Kornblum and Tony Podesta hadn’t either, especially when Mueller had brought charges against Paul Manafort for his failure to register as a foreign agent.)
Chalupa also told Politico that the embassy worked directly with reporters researching Trump, Manafort and Russia to point them in the right directions. Unsurprisingly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Valeriy Chaly, and one of his top aides, Oksana Shulyar,” vehemently denied working with reporters or with Chalupa on anything related to Trump or Manafort, explaining “we were stormed by many reporters to comment on this subject, but our clear and adamant position was not to give any comment [and] not to interfere into the campaign affairs.””
But Andrii Telizhenko, who worked as a political officer in the Ukrainian Embassy under Shulyar, said she instructed him to help Chalupa research connections between Trump, Manafort and Russia. “Oksana said that if I had any information, or knew other people who did, then I should contact Chalupa,” recalled Telizhenko, who is now a political consultant in Kiev. “They were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa,” he said, adding “Oksana was keeping it all quiet,” but “the embassy worked very closely with” Chalupa.
Telizhenko recalled that Chalupa told him and Shulyar that, “If we can get enough information on Paul [Manafort] or Trump’s involvement with Russia, she can get a hearing in Congress by September.”
Chalupa confirmed that, a week after Manafort’s hiring was announced, she discussed the possibility of a congressional investigation with a foreign policy legislative assistant in the office of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who co-chairs the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. But, Chalupa said, “It didn’t go anywhere.”
Another important character in this story is Ukrainian Parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko who revealed the black ledger. Dan Bongino points out that at the same time, this same story appears in Christopher Steele’s dossier. This led people to see the dossier as confirmation that the story of the “black ledger found in the empty bank vault” was legitimate. It also implies coordination between Chalupa, Steele, Leshchenko, Fusion GPS and the DNC.
Leshchenko spoke to the Financial Times after revealing the black ledger. “A Trump presidency would change the pro-Ukrainian agenda in American foreign policy. For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is a pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.”