Oh what a tangled web we weave…
Donald Trump wasn’t the only presidential candidate whose campaign was boosted by officials of a former Soviet bloc country.
Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.
A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia. But they were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails.
The Ukrainian antipathy for Trump’s team — and alignment with Clinton’s — can be traced back to late 2013. That’s when the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, whom Manafort had been advising, abruptly backed out of a European Union pact linked to anti-corruption reforms. Instead, Yanukovych entered into a multibillion-dollar bailout agreement with Russia, sparking protests across Ukraine and prompting Yanukovych to flee the country to Russia under Putin’s protection.
In the ensuing crisis, Russian troops moved into the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, and Manafort dropped off the radar.
Manafort’s work for Yanukovych caught the attention of a veteran Democratic operative named Alexandra Chalupa, who had worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Clinton administration. Chalupa went on to work as a staffer, then as a consultant, for Democratic National Committee. The DNC paid her $412,000 from 2004 to June 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records, though she also was paid by other clients during that time, including Democratic campaigns and the DNC’s arm for engaging expatriate Democrats around the world.
A daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who maintains strong ties to the Ukrainian-American diaspora and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Chalupa, a lawyer by training, in 2014 was doing pro bono work for another client interested in the Ukrainian crisis and began researching Manafort’s role in Yanukovych’s rise, as well as his ties to the pro-Russian oligarchs who funded Yanukovych’s political party.
In an interview this month, Chalupa told Politico she had developed a network of sources in Kiev and Washington, including investigative journalists, government officials and private intelligence operatives. While her consulting work at the DNC this past election cycle centered on mobilizing ethnic communities — including Ukrainian-Americans — she said that, when Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign began surging in late 2015, she began focusing more on the research, and expanded it to include Trump’s ties to Russia, as well.
She occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, Chalupa said. In January 2016 — months before Manafort had taken any role in Trump’s campaign — Chalupa told a senior DNC official that, when it came to Trump’s campaign, “I felt there was a Russia connection,” Chalupa recalled. “And that, if there was, that we can expect Paul Manafort to be involved in this election,” said Chalupa, who at the time also was warning leaders in the Ukrainian-American community that Manafort was “Putin’s political brain for manipulating U.S. foreign policy and elections.” –POLITICO
Now Ukraine President Poroshenko is scrambling to repair the damage:
Russia’s meddling has sparked outrage from the American body politic. The U.S. intelligence community undertook the rare move of publicizing its findings on the matter, and President Barack Obama took several steps to officially retaliate, while members of Congress continue pushing for more investigations into the hacking and a harder line against Russia, which was already viewed in Washington as America’s leading foreign adversary.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has traditionally enjoyed strong relations with U.S. administrations. Its officials worry that could change under Trump, whose team has privately expressed sentiments ranging from ambivalence to deep skepticism about Poroshenko’s regime, while sounding unusually friendly notes about Putin’s regime.
Poroshenko is scrambling to alter that dynamic, recently signing a $50,000-a-month contract with a well-connected GOP-linked Washington lobbying firm to set up meetings with U.S. government officials “to strengthen U.S.-Ukrainian relations.”
Revelations about Ukraine’s anti-Trump efforts could further set back those efforts.
“Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Ukraine,” said David A. Merkel, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who helped oversee U.S. relations with Russia and Ukraine while working in George W. Bush’s State Department and National Security Council.
Merkel, who has served as an election observer in Ukrainian presidential elections dating back to 1993, noted there’s some irony in Ukraine and Russia taking opposite sides in the 2016 presidential race, given that past Ukrainian elections were widely viewed in Washington’s foreign policy community as proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia.
“Now, it seems that a U.S. election may have been seen as a surrogate battle by those in Kiev and Moscow,” Merkel said.