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Devin Nunes: I’ll Try the Chalupa

November 20, 2019


“Of course there are no transcripts from crucial witnesses like Hunter Biden, who could testify about his well-paying job on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian company, or Alexandra Chalupa, who worked on an election meddling scheme with Ukrainian officials on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.” –Devin Nunes’s opening statement, afternoon HPSCI Impeachment Inquiry, 11/19/2019.

Unless you’re steeped in TrumpWorld conspiracy theories, “Chalupa” probably brings to mind a menu item at Chuy’s. But in right-wing fever dreams, Alexandra Chalupa is at the center of the real plot to steal the 2016 election which was carried out by Ukraine at the direction of Hillary Clinton. (Alas, it tragically seems to have failed.)

There really is an Alexandra Chalupa, who is a Ukrainian-American lawyer (though reportedly has never been to Ukraine) and formerly worked for the Democratic National Committee as a director of its “ethnic outreach” effort. According to an October 2016 Yahoo News story by Michael Isikoff, she became alarmed about connections between the Trump campaign and Paul Manafort, who was viewed as the key political operative behind the pro-Moscow Ukrainian president Yanukovych. She viewed Manafort as an agent of Putin in advancing Russian interests in Ukraine and was determined to expose his influence. She began to circulate memos and emails about Manafort’s connections and exchanged messages about him to investigative journalists in Kyiv. Those efforts redoubled after Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager in the summer of 2016.

The germ of the Republican accusations regarding Ukrainian meddling appears to be a long article in Politico published January 11, 2017, shortly before the inauguration. You can read it here.) According to the article, “a Ukrainian-American operative [Chalupa] 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 article continues, however:

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…. There’s little evidence of such a top-down effort by Ukraine.

The basic problem with the Republican narrative is that most of those ties between Trump and Russia and Russia-connected Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs were subsequently corroborated by investigations by Robert Mueller and the US Intelligence Community. This partly explains the continuing efforts by Trump and his allies to discredit the origins of those investigations by trying to show that they were politically-motivated and therefore somehow illegitimate.

The Politico article notes that Ukrainians were alarmed by Trump’s obvious lean toward Moscow during the campaign.

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.

The article says that Chalupa, who in 2014 was doing pro bono work for another client in Ukraine, “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.” She “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign” and (shortly before Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and became its manager in June) had a meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador Chaly and another top official of the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.

Chalupa stopped working with the DNC after the July convention, but provided “off-the-record information and guidance to ‘a lot of journalists’ working on stories related to Manafort and Trump’s Russia connections, despite what she described as escalating harassment.”

Perhaps as a result of her efforts, Chalupa’s personal computer was attacked (not long before the DNC server itself was hacked by Russian operatives) and there were suspicious break-ins into her car and home as well as death threats.

Perhaps the most important item in TrumpWorld stories about Alexandra Chalupa is an alleged role in surfacing the so-called “black ledgers” of apparent pay-offs by Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party to various figures in Ukraine which included entries showing $12.7 million going to Manafort. After this news broke, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign. Devin Nunes and other Trump defenders have claimed the “black ledgers” are fake and attempted to link the disclosure to the alleged Clinton/Ukraine meddling conspiracy.

It’s worth noting that the Politico investigation does NOT connect Chalupa with the “black ledger”, which was released by an independent Ukrainian government agency and publicized by Serhiy Leshchenko, an investigative journalist who was elected to the Ukrainian parliament.  (Leshchenko is referenced in the “whistleblower” complaint.) The agency that released the ledgers, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, was created in 2014 as a condition for Ukraine to receive aid from the U.S. and the European Union, and it signed an evidence-sharing agreement with the FBI in late June — less than a month and a half before it released the ledgers. Somewhat oddly, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry felt moved to chime in to defend Trump and Manafort, saying “Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump’s election campaign headquarters by planting information according to which Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, allegedly accepted money from Ukrainian oligarchs.”

During the campaign, a number of Ukrainian officials expressed concerns about Trump’s positions either in print or on social media. These included an op-ed in The Hill by Ambassador Chaly which criticized Trump statements that implied willingness to recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea as legitimate. While such statements might have pushed traditional diplomatic practices a bit, they were completely overt and would scarcely have been remarked upon had they been written by, say, Israeli officials.

Chaly reached out to Trump foreign policy advisors during the GOP convention in Cleveland (also conspicuously attended by the Russian ambassador), where a platform plank calling for the US to provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine was gutted–a move attributed by many to Manafort. In September, Chaly was snubbed by candidate Trump at the UN General Assembly, but got a meeting with Hillary Clinton.

There is little question that since the Maidan revolution in 2014, Ukrainians have regarded Trump’s attraction to Russia and Putin with something like existential dread. It is equally clear that Trump takes a very dim view of Ukraine, whose survival as a fully autonomous country probably depends on consistent US support. A very awkward situation indeed.

But Nunes’s indignant howls at being prevented from investigating his Ukraine conspiracy theories rest on the flimsiest of false equivalencies. It requires denying the reality of a well-proven state-sponsored campaign by Russia against Clinton and the entire US election system and substituting for it a fabricated conspiracy in which freelancing individuals concerned about verifiable ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin are the real enemy. If Nunes and his cronies had their way, we would know nothing about the relationships of Manafort and others because the investigations into their activities would never have happened.

Fiona Hill, John Bolton’s former deputy on Trump’s NSC told the impeachment inquiry committee that she and others have tried for years to disabuse Trump of the Ukraine fantasy. “The Ukrainian government did not interfere in the U.S. election. The Ukrainian government did not do that,” Hill said under questioning from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). “The Ukrainian Special Services also did not interfere in our election.”

Nunes says he wants to call Alexandra Chalupa as a witness. Well, she told Politico recently that she’s itching to testify. It’s probably not going to happen, but I almost wish it would. Devin, be careful what you wish for…

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