The boomerang from the Democratic Party’s failed attempt to connect Donald Trump to Russia’s 2016 election meddling is picking up speed, and its flight path crosses right through Moscow’s pesky neighbor, Ukraine. That is where there is growing evidence a foreign power was asked, and in some cases tried, to help Hillary Clinton.
In its most detailed account yet, Ukraine’s embassy in Washington says a Democratic National Committee insider during the 2016 election solicited dirt on Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and even tried to enlist the country’s president to help.
In written answers to questions, Ambassador Valeriy Chaly’s office says DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa sought information from the Ukrainian government on Paul Manafort’s dealings inside the country, in hopes of forcing the issue before Congress.
Chalupa later tried to arrange for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to comment on Manafort’s Russian ties on a U.S. visit during the 2016 campaign, the ambassador said.
Chaly says that, at the time of the contacts in 2016, the embassy knew Chalupa primarily as a Ukrainian-American activist, and learned only later of her ties to the DNC. He says the embassy considered her requests an inappropriate solicitation of interference in the U.S. election.
“The Embassy got to know Ms. Chalupa because of her engagement with Ukrainian and other diasporas in Washington D.C., and not in her DNC capacity. We’ve learned about her DNC involvement later,” Chaly said in a statement issued by his embassy. “We were surprised to see Alexandra’s interest in Mr. Paul Manafort’s case. It was her own cause. The Embassy representatives unambiguously refused to get involved in any way, as we were convinced that this is a strictly U.S. domestic matter.
“All ideas floated by Alexandra were related to approaching a Member of Congress with a purpose to initiate hearings on Paul Manafort or letting an investigative journalist ask President Poroshenko a question about Mr. Manafort during his public talk in Washington, D.C.,” the ambassador explained.
Reached by phone last week, Chalupa said she was too busy to talk. She did not respond to email and phone messages seeking subsequent comment.
Chaly’s written answers mark the most direct acknowledgement by Ukraine’s government that an American tied to the Democratic Party sought the country’s help in the 2016 election, and they confirm the main points of a January 2017 story by Politico on Chalupa’s efforts.
In that story, the embassy was broadly quoted as denying interference in the election and suggested Chalupa’s main reason for contacting the ambassador’s office was to organize an event celebrating women leaders.
The fresh statement comes several months after a Ukrainian court ruled that the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), closely aligned with the U.S. embassy in Kiev, and a parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko wrongly interfered in the 2016 American election by releasing documents related to Manafort.
The acknowledgement by Kiev’s embassy, plus newly released testimony, suggests the Ukrainian efforts to influence the U.S. election had some intersections in Washington as well.
Nellie Ohr, wife of senior U.S. Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, acknowledged in congressional testimony that, while working for the Clinton-hired research firm Fusion GPS, she researched Trump and Manafort’s ties to Russia and learned Leshchenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, was providing dirt to Fusion.
Fusion also paid British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, whose anti-Trump dossier the FBI used as primary evidence to support its request to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
In addition, I wrote last month that the Obama White House invited Ukrainian law enforcement officials to a meeting in January 2016 as Trump rose in the polls on his improbable path to the presidency. The meeting led to U.S. requests to the Ukrainians to help investigate Manafort, setting in motion a series of events that led to the Ukrainians leaking the documents about Manafort in May 2016.
The DNC’s embassy contacts add a new dimension, though. Chalupa discussed in the 2017 Politico article about her efforts to dig up dirt on Trump and Manafort, including at the Ukrainian embassy.
FEC records show Chalupa’s firm, Chalupa & Associates, was paid $71,918 by the DNC during the 2016 election cycle.
Exactly how the Ukrainian embassy responded to Chalupa’s inquiries remains in dispute.
Chaly’s statement says the embassy rebuffed her requests for information: “No documents related to Trump campaign or any individuals involved in the campaign have been passed to Ms. Chalupa or the DNC neither from the Embassy nor via the Embassy. No documents exchange was even discussed.”
But Andrii Telizhenko, a former political officer who worked under Chaly from December 2015 through June 2016, told me he was instructed by the ambassador and his top deputy to meet with Chalupa in March 2016 and to gather whatever dirt Ukraine had in its government files about Trump and Manafort.
Telizhenko said that, when he was told by the embassy to arrange the meeting, both Chaly and the ambassador’s top deputy identified Chalupa “as someone working for the DNC and trying to get Clinton elected.”
Over lunch at a Washington restaurant, Chalupa told Telizhenko in stark terms what she hoped the Ukrainians could provide the DNC and the Clinton campaign, according to his account.
“She said the DNC wanted to collect evidence that Trump, his organization and Manafort were Russian assets, working to hurt the U.S. and working with Putin against the U.S. interests. She indicated if we could find the evidence they would introduce it in Congress in September and try to build a case that Trump should be removed from the ballot, from the election,” he recalled.
After the meeting, Telizhenko said he became concerned about the legality of using his country’s assets to help an American political party win an U.S. election. But he proceeded with his assignment.
Telizhenko said that, as he began his research, he discovered that Fusion GPS was nosing around Ukraine, seeking similar information, and he believed they, too, worked for the Democrats.
As a former aide inside the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev, Telizhenko used contacts with intelligence, police and prosecutors across the country to secure information connecting Russian figures to assistance on some of the Trump organization’s real estate deals overseas, including a tower in Toronto.
Telizhenko said he did not want to provide the intelligence he collected directly to Chalupa, and instead handed the materials to Chaly: “I told him what we were doing was illegal, that it was unethical doing this as diplomats.” He said the ambassador told him he would handle the matter and had opened a second channel back in Ukraine to continue finding dirt on Trump.
Telizhenko said he also was instructed by his bosses to meet with an American journalist researching Manafort’s ties to Ukraine.
About a month later, he said his relationship with the ambassador soured and, by June 2016, he was ordered to return to Ukraine. There, he reported his concerns about the embassy’s contacts with the Democrats to the former prosecutor general’s office and officials in the Poroshenko administration: “Everybody already knew what was going on and told me it had been approved at the highest levels.”
Telizhenko said he never was able to confirm whether the information he collected for Chalupa was delivered to her, the DNC or the Clinton campaign.
Chalupa, meanwhile, continued to build a case that Manafort and Trump were tied to Russia.
In April 2016, she attended an international symposium where she reported back to the DNC that she had met with 68 Ukrainian investigative journalists to talk about Manafort. She also wrote that she invited American reporter Michael Isikoff to speak with her. Isikoff wrote some of the seminal stories tying Manafort to Ukraine and Trump to Russia; he later wrote a book making a case for Russian collusion.
“A lot more coming down the pipe,” Chalupa wrote a top DNC official on May 3, 2016, recounting her effort to educate Ukrainian journalists and Isikoff about Manafort.
Then she added: “More offline tomorrow since there is a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in next few weeks and something I’m working on you should be aware of.”
Less than a month later, the “black ledger” identifying payments to Manafort was announced in Ukraine, forcing Manafort to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman and eventually face criminal prosecution for improper foreign lobbying.
DNC officials have suggested in the past that Chalupa’s efforts were personal, not officially on behalf of the DNC. But Chalupa’s May 2016 email clearly informed a senior DNC official that she was “digging into Manafort” and she suspected someone was trying to hack into her email account.
Chaly over the years has tried to portray his role as Ukraine’s ambassador in Washington as one of neutrality during the 2016 election. But in August 2016 he raised eyebrows in some diplomatic circles when he wrote an OpEd in The Hill skewering Trump for some of his comments on Russia. “Trump’s comments send wrong message to world,” Chaly’s article blared in the headline.
In his statement to me, Chaly said he wrote the article because he had been solicited for his views by The Hill’s opinion team.
Chaly’s office also acknowledged that a month after the OpEd, President Poroshenko met with then-candidate Clinton during a stop in New York. The office said the ambassador requested a similar meeting with Trump but it didn’t get organized.
Though Chaly and Telizhenko disagree on what Ukraine did after it got Chalupa’s request, they confirm that a paid contractor of the DNC solicited their government’s help to find dirt on Trump that could sway the 2016 election.
For a Democratic Party that spent more than two years building the now-disproven theory that Trump colluded with Russia to hijack the 2016 election, the tale of the Ukrainian embassy in Washington feels just like a speeding political boomerang.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.