The Slatest

Did the Clinton Campaign Really Collude With Ukraine?

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

AFP/Getty Images

Following the revelation of emails confirming the New York Times’ Monday story about Donald Trump Jr. being told about Russian efforts to aid the Trump campaign, conservatives, Trump backers, and Trump Jr. himself resurfaced the findings of a January Politico story about Ukrainian efforts to aid Hillary Clinton, arguing that Clinton allies had been just as willing to work with a foreign power as Trump Jr. seemed to be.

The widely shared Daily Caller post about the Politico story asserts that Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa was involved in an effort by Ukraine to provide Democrats with opposition research on Paul Manafort’s work as a pro-Russia political adviser in Ukraine—a strategy Trump supporters claim is analogous to the Trump campaign’s apparent effort to gather research on Clinton that was potentially furnished by the Russian government.

A veteran DNC operative who previously worked in the Clinton White House, Alexandra Chalupa, worked with Ukrainian government officials and journalists from both Ukraine and America to dig up Russia-related opposition research on Trump and Manafort. She also shared her anti-Trump research with both the DNC and the Clinton campaign, according to the Politico report.

Chalupa met with Ukrainian ambassador Valeriy Chaly and one of his aides, Oksara Shulyar, at the Ukrainian Embassy in March 2016 to talk about unearthing Paul Manafort’s Russian connections, Chalupa admitted to Politico. Four days later, Trump officially hired Manafort. …

The Politico report also notes that the DNC encouraged Chalupa to try to arrange an interview with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to talk about Manafort’s ties to the former pro-Russia president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, whom Manafort previously advised.

The first thing to note about the Politico piece is that it goes to considerable lengths to differentiate the activities of Ukrainian officials during the election and the broad and evidently Kremlin-led efforts to assist Trump. “Russia’s effort was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, involved the country’s military and foreign intelligence services, according to U.S. intelligence officials,” Politico’s Kenneth Vogel and David Stern wrote. “There’s little evidence of such a top-down effort by Ukraine. Longtime observers suggest that the rampant corruption, factionalism and economic struggles plaguing the country—not to mention its ongoing strife with Russia—would render it unable to pull off an ambitious covert interference campaign in another country’s election.”

That said, Politico’s story did raise questions about the willingness of Clinton allies and the DNC to work with foreign officials in securing information damaging to the Trump campaign, although the parallels to what Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort were involved in are thinner than Trump backers claim.

The Politico story doesn’t implicate the Clinton campaign directly so much as it does the DNC—which, Vogel and Stern wrote, was briefed on Manafort following a meeting between Chalupa, Ukrainian Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, and one of the ambassador’s aides at the Ukrainian embassy in March 2016. It’s not clear whether DNC officials were aware that Chalupa was working with Ukranian officials at that point. The story does, however, say that DNC officials encouraged Chalupa to ask for a meeting with Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko to gather more information about Manafort, a meeting that never happened:

[T]he former DNC staffer and the operative familiar with the situation agreed that with the DNC’s encouragement, Chalupa asked embassy staff to try to arrange an interview in which Poroshenko might discuss Manafort’s ties to [ousted Ukranian President Viktor] Yanukovych.

While the embassy declined that request, officials there became “helpful” in Chalupa’s efforts, she said, explaining that she traded information and leads with them. “If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with.” But she stressed, “There were no documents given, nothing like that.”

The story goes on to quote embassy official Andrii Telizhenko as saying that the embassy was additionally working with “the Hillary team” itself, but the allegation isn’t elaborated upon in the piece.

It’s important to remember that what’s ultimately concerning about Russiagate is the possibility that the Trump campaign—including staffers now employed in the White House by the president—worked with a hostile government whose leaders attempted to influence and disrupt the election with cyberattacks. The Chalupa story is about officials in an embassy passing along opposition research to a Democratic operative and reporters. The two episodes are not close to being the same, but that fact obviously won’t stop Trump’s supporters from deploying the story for yet another round of Clinton whataboutism.