The Hill’s John Solomon interviewed the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, on Wednesday. Lutsenko has opened a criminal investigation into alleged interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Several Ukrainian officials are alleged to have leaked then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s financial information referred to as a “black ledger file” to the U.S. media to damage both Manafort and Trump, and to help Hillary Clinton win the presidency. Once this information was made public, Manafort was forced to resign from Trump’s campaign and shortly afterward, his legal woes began. (I wrote a post about this story yesterday.)
To gain a better understanding of what happened, it’s helpful to know the backstory. No one does a better job of this than writer/commentator Dan Bongino in his book “Spygate.” If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. But I will include relevant excerpts.
A pro-Western Ukrainian lawyer and activist named Alexandra Chalupa stands at the center of this story. She hated Manafort for his role in the re-election of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and his subsequent work for the pro-Russian party in Ukraine.
In early 2016, Manafort reached out to Trump and soon became the chairman of his campaign. Bongino wrote that “due to Manafort’s connections to Russian billionaires and Ukrainian politicians close to Putin, his hiring by Trump fueled whispered speculation that Russian forces controlled the campaign.”
Bongino added that “allegations of Trump-Russia collusion started to gain steam” once Manafort joined the team and that much of this narrative was driven by Alexandra Chalupa.
Chalupa had worked as a consultant for the DNC and for Democratic politicians including several Clinton campaign officials. Between 2004 and 2016, she had earned $412,000 from the DNC, but left to focus on researching or rather “destroying” Manafort. Chalupa had “watched him since 2014.” According to Bongino,
The moment Manafort joined the Trump team, Chalupa alerted the DNC of the “threat” of Russian influence. Chalupa’s sister, Andrea, spread the word on a Ukrainian television show calling Manafort’s hiring a “huge deal” and describing him as the “puppet master of some of the most vile dictators around the world.” His hiring, she said sent a “very, very, very, very, very serious warning bell going off.” This fear was rooted in the belief that Manafort was the mastermind behind Yanukovych’s corruption.
Chalupa was a woman on a mission. Determined to broadcast her message to the world, she began by enlisting the help of journalists. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff came on board and began writing a series of articles which portrayed both Manafort and the Trump campaign in a rather nefarious light. Her strategy was quite effective.
On May 3, 2016, she emailed an associate at the DNC:
I spoke to a delegation of 68 investigative journalists from Ukraine last Wednesday at the Library of Congress…they put me on the program specifically to speak about Paul Manafort and I invited Michael Isikoff who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow since there is a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks.
“Following the event, she and Isikoff headed over to the Ukrainian embassy for a reception,” Bongino wrote.
Chalupa’s smear campaign involved journalists and diplomats as well as contacts inside the DNC. She obviously had many contacts from her years in Washington and her message was easy to sell.
Still, Manafort continued to hang on until August 19th when the New York Times reported that:
Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau found a black ledger in a bank vault abandoned by Yanukovych showing $12 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by Yanukovych’s political party. “Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also include election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles.”
Manafort had no choice but to resign from the campaign. The identity of the leaker remains a mystery to this day. But, considering the news was damaging to Manafort and Trump and helpful to the Hillary campaign, and that Chalupa had devoted herself full-time to the business of destroying Manafort, I suppose we can guess who was behind it.
News that Ukraine has opened an investigation into 2016 US presidential election interference is a major development in the Russia collusion story.
Last year, Dan Bongino published a fascinating, extremely well-researched book called “Spypage,” which I’m sure many of you have read. I wanted to incorporate some of the detail found in the book into this story and found I could not do so in one post. So, I will present the story in four parts.
Parts 2, 3, and 4 will post on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.