So what precisely do we know about the Ukraine scandal that nobody’s heard of? How does it compare to the Russia case and what lessons does the comparison offer for where benign foreign involvement in elections ends and malignant foreign interference begins?
The ur-text for the Ukraine counterargument is a Politico report from January headlined, “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire.” The investigation details three distinct ways in which Ukrainian officials allegedly assisted Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The Political Operative
The first involves the Ukrainian American political operative Alexandra Chalupa. As a paid consultant to the Democratic National Committee, Chalupa was tasked with something unrelated to Ukraine: helping the party reach out to various ethnic groups in the United States. But during her time in that role, which ended after the Democratic convention in July, she was also immersed in a side project: investigating Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, and the work he did advising the former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Politico reports that as part of this effort, Chalupa cultivated a network of sources in Ukraine and the United States, including “investigative journalists, government officials, and private intelligence operatives.” She “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign” and voiced her concerns about Manafort’s Russia ties with Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, during a meeting at the Ukrainian Embassy.
A DNC official told Politico that the party didn’t incorporate Chalupa’s findings into its opposition research on Trump, and the Ukrainian Embassy has denied involvement in Chalupa’s inquiry. But relying on the account of a former Ukrainian Embassy staffer and several anonymous sources, Politico sketched out a triangle of interactions between Chalupa, the DNC, and the Ukrainian Embassy—one based on apparent sympathy with Chalupa’s research project, if not outright coordination:
[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 [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko might discuss Manafort’s ties to 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.”
Politico uncovered little concrete evidence of Chalupa’s work having a major impact on the presidential campaign. Her attempt to launch a congressional investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia didn’t succeed. She served as a resource to journalists investigating Manafort but, as Politico noted, “it’s not uncommon for outside operatives to serve as intermediaries between governments and reporters.”