Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that he would “happily” have prosecutors look into whether the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Zelensky also said during a six-hour interview in Kiev, Ukraine, that there was “no blackmail” involved in a July 25 phone call he had with President Donald Trump that is now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Trump asked Zelensky during the call to consider investigating whether former Vice President Joe Biden pressured former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire a prosecutor in 2016 investigating a company linked to his son, Hunter Biden. Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump, has pushed for an investigation of Joe Biden. Prosecutors indicted two Giuliani associates involved in gathering information on Joe Biden Thursday on campaign finance charges. The indictment does not appear to refer to Giuliani or the effort to investigate Joe Biden.
Democrats and liberal media pundits have dismissed Trump & Co.’s interest in Ukraine meddling as the product of conspiracy theories and a distraction from the Trump-Giuliani push to investigate Joe Biden. For his part, Zelensky said Thursday that he “didn’t care what happens” with the Biden angle.
A top diplomat to Ukraine told Congress on Oct. 3 that there might be some truth to the allegations related to election meddling.
“A different issue is whether some individual Ukrainians may have attempted to influence the 2016 election or thought they could buy influence: that is at least plausible, given Ukraine’s reputation for corruption,” Kurt Volker, who until Sept. 27 served as special envoy to Ukraine, said in an opening statement during his deposition on Oct. 3.
A Jan. 11, 2017 Politico report centered on the activities of Alexandra Chalupa, who worked as a Democratic National Committee (DNC) consultant from 2004 through July 2016.
Chalupa began in March 2016 working with Ukrainian embassy officials as part of an investigation into the Trump campaign and Paul Manafort, who had worked as a consultant for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych through 2014.
Chalupa reported her activities back to DNC officials, according to the Politico piece and emails WikiLeaks published in 2016.
Chalupa emailed former DNC communication director Luis Miranda on May 3, 2016 that she was working on a Trump-related project with a group of Ukrainian journalists and Michael Isikoff, a Yahoo! News reporter who later during the campaign would meet with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the Trump dossier on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign.
“A lot more coming down the pipe,” Chalupa told Miranda in the email, adding that there was “a big Trump component” that would hit over the next few weeks.
The DNC encouraged Chalupa to ask the Ukrainian embassy for help obtaining information about Manafort, according to Politico. Andrii Telizhenko, who worked in the embassy, said that Oksana Shulyar, a deputy to Ukraine’s ambassador, Valeriy Chaly, instructed him to assist Chalupa in the endeavor.
Chalupa obtained information from a network of sources in Kyiv and Washington, D.C., and provided materials to the DNC and journalists. She took up an investigation of Manafort in late 2015, and met with Chaly and Shulyar in March 2016. After Manafort joined the Trump campaign, Chalupa was in high demand from journalists and the DNC, according to Politico.
DNC officials encouraged Chalupa to ask the Ukrainian embassy to set up an interview with Poroshenko, in hopes of asking him a question about Manafort. The embassy declined the request.
Chalupa hoped to collect enough information on Manafort to force a congressional hearing in September 2016. She reportedly reached out to Democratic Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who sits on the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, to arrange the hearing, but it did not come to fruition.
Chaly confirmed interactions with Chalupa to John Solomon, an opinion contributor at The Hill, while denying that he knew she was affiliated with the DNC during her dirt-digging mission on Manafort.
“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, Solomon reported in May.
“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,” the statement continued.
Chaly said that Chalupa floated the idea of approaching a member of Congress about hearings related to Manafort.
After the 2016 election, Chalupa, who parted ways with the DNC in July 2016, would continue working to dig up dirt on Trump. She partnered with Brett Kimberlin, a left-wing activist and convicted bomb maker, to obtain documents that purported to show that Rex Tillerson, a former Trump secretary of state, paid Trump’s companies $1.5 billion through ExxonMobil, The Daily Caller reported on March 21, 2017.
The documents ended up being forgeries.
Chalupa also had contact with Serhiy Leshchenko, a former Ukraine parliamentarian and investigative journalist who helped publicize a mysterious “black ledger” that led to Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign.
Leshchenko acknowledged to the Daily Caller News Foundation in September that he met with Chalupa in 2016.
He first revealed parts of the ledger on May 31, 2016, during a press conference in Ukraine, but made no mention of Manafort at the time. Leshchenko held another press conference two months later, after The New York Times reported that the ledger showed $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions to Manafort through 2012.
The report led Manafort to resign from the campaign, and planted some of the first seeds that would later blossom into the Trump collusion conspiracy theory.
A federal jury in Virginia convicted Manafort of money laundering in 2018 related to his Ukraine work, but has vehemently denied receiving the payments listed in the ledger.
It is still not clear whether the ledger is legitimate or a fake. Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which handled the ledger, did not respond to a recent request for comment.
Chalupa did not respond to an email seeking comment, nor did the Ukrainian embassy.
So far, there is no direct evidence that the DNC’s Ukraine operation overlapped with the work of the Steele dossier. But Leshchenko was identified in congressional testimony in 2018 as a source of information Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele to collect information on Trump.
Nellie Ohr, who worked for Fusion GPS during the election season, testified on Oct. 18 that Leshchenko was a Fusion GPS source, though she said she did not have insight into how the firm gathered information from the Ukrainian lawmaker.
Leshchenko told the DCNF in September that he does not believe he ever met anyone from Fusion GPS, though he did not rule out speaking with Fusion GPS employees who failed to identify themselves as such.
Before the 2016 election, Leshchenko openly acknowledged that his work pushing the “black ledger” was part of an effort to stymie Trump’s campaign.
“A Trump presidency would change the pro-Ukrainian agenda in American foreign policy,” Leshchenko told the Financial Times days after publicizing the black ledger. “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.”