by Paul Sperry
Though ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was never charged with conspiring with Russia, he did go to jail for, among other things, failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine. The Democratic National Committee operative who helped get him booted from the campaign should be investigated for the same violation, Republican Senators say.
Former DNC contractor and opposition researcher Alexandra “Ali” Chalupa not only worked closely with the Ukrainian Embassy and Clinton campaign, trading dirt on Manafort and Trump, but also Congress and the Obama White House, State Department and even the FBI. “At the center of the [Ukraine foreign influence] plan was Alexandra Chalupa,” GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee has asserted.
“Chalupa’s actions appear to show she was simultaneously working on behalf of a foreign government, Ukraine, and on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign, in an effort to influence not only the U.S. voting population but U.S. government officials,” Grassley said in a July 2017 letter to then-deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“Chalupa’s actions implicate the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” he said. “It is imperative that the Justice Department explain why she has not been required to register under FARA.”
Chalupa maintained Justice looked into the complaint and cleared her within four months, finding no FARA violations. (Rosenstein at the time had just appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over the Russiagate probe after reportedly considering invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.)
Chalupa is an important figure in the anti-Trump conspiracy plot Special Counsel John Durham is investigating, according to sources familiar with his probe. Though she is a material witness in his inquiry, it is not immediately known if she has been interviewed by his investigators. Questions sent to her attorney went unanswered.
Questions are also being raised about how the Federal Election Commission handled her case in an investigation the agency quietly conducted from 2017, when it first received a complaint about her, until it closed it in 2021.
In a little-noticed 2019 letter to Chalupa, the FEC stated that its attorneys “found reason to believe that you violated [the Federal Election Campaign Act] by soliciting, accepting or receiving contributions from foreign nationals,” noting that “the Ukrainian Embassy made in-kind contributions to the DNC by performing opposition research on the Trump campaign at no charge to the DNC.”
In a separate letter to the DNC, the commission found that the Democratic organization “does not directly deny that Chalupa obtained assistance from the Ukrainians nor that she passed on the Ukrainian Embassy’s research to DNC officials.” Further, it stated that DNC officials “may have authorized Chalupa to act as an intermediary [with the Embassy] to solicit and receive negative information about the Trump campaign.”
But on Jan. 13, 2021 – the day the House voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot – FEC attorneys suddenly reversed themselves and recommended the commission take no further action against Chalupa or the DNC. In a 4 to 2 vote, FEC commissioners closed the case. Voting with the majority, longtime Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub dismissed the Ukraine-DNC collusion allegations as “Russian disinformation.”
Defending the DNC in the case was Clinton attorney Marc Elias, then of Perkins Coie, which refused to comply with the commission’s subpoenas for DNC depositions and documents, including phone records.
“We attempted to interview several former DNC officials who interacted with Chalupa on the Manafort issue, but each denied our interview request,” acting FEC General Counsel Lisa Stevenson said in a case report.
She said investigators were forced to rely primarily on testimony and documents from Chalupa, even though Chalupa claimed she could not access critical text messages with DNC officials. Stevenson said investigators put more stock in Chalupa’s testimony than that of Andrii Telizhenko, the Ukrainian Embassy official who swore Chalupa coordinated with the Ukrainian government in an election interference plot. Chalupa told investigators she thought Telizhenko might be “a mole for the Russian Federation.” She also suggested he was “mentally unwell.”
Stevenson also decided not to investigate fresh evidence of potential wrongdoing that surfaced late in the case and cast doubt on Chalupa’s candor in her sworn 2019 statements.
“Chalupa apparently made two other requests of the embassy related to exposing Manafort, which she did not mention but which [senior Ukrainian Embassy official Oksana] Shulyar disclosed in June 2020,” Stevenson said. “Shulyar recalls that Chalupa separately asked for the embassy to talk with a journalist writing a story on Manafort and to approach a member of Congress (unidentified, but most likely [Democratic Rep. Marcy] Kaptur given Shulyar’s description) to initiate a congressional investigation into Manafort.”
Nevertheless, the top FEC attorney claimed investigators didn’t have time to explore the revelations and urged the FEC to button up the case.
“These requests [by Chalupa] could support finding additional violations of the [FEC] Act and commission regulations, but in light of the time remaining within the statute of limitations and the lack of further specific information regarding these requests — the existence of which was not revealed until late in the investigation — we do not recommend that the commission expend further resources in pursuing such a finding,” Stevenson said.
However, the federal statute of limitations on such matters runs five years, which means investigators had another six months to evaluate whether the new information constituted a violation.
In addition to omitting critical information from her testimony, Chalupa appears to have made up a story about Telizhenko trying to bribe her friends to collect dirt on her. “Chalupa identified two individuals who she claimed were approached by Telizhenko and offered money in exchange for dirt on her,” Stevenson noted. “However, when we interviewed these individuals, both denied that Telizhenko had made any such overture to them.”
Perkins Coie is now a central target of Durham’s ongoing investigation. Former Perkins lawyer Michael Sussmann faces felony charges related to his work digging up anti-Trump dirt for the Clinton campaign in 2016. And Durham recently brought his former partner Elias before his grand jury to testify under subpoena. Durham also has obtained thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents from Perkins.
While it cannot be determined if Durham has subpoenaed DNC documents, he has received documents from “the Clinton campaign” under subpoena, according to a recent discovery filing in the Sussmann case. And he presumably has access to the cell phone Chalupa used to contact DNC officials in 2016, since the FBI imaged it after she claimed she’d been hacked by the Russians.
Chalupa has denied coordinating DNC opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy in 2016 or breaking any laws, even though she admits discussing Manafort’s activities in Ukraine with embassy personnel and trying to get then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to issue anti-Manafort statements during the campaign.
The former Clinton White House aide and longtime DNC operative insists she acted out of a sense of patriotism, not politics – a common refrain among officials who fueled the Trump-Russian “collusion” hysteria.
The Ukrainian-American claims she wasn’t just trying to protect her ancestral homeland but also America.
“I was moved to warn Americans out of a sense of duty to our country,” Chalupa said in a statement to the FEC. “Not for a moment did I view that doing so was a partisan issue, but rather was purely out of national security interests. … Again, this was not a political issue, but rather a matter of U.S. national security.”
She maintained that an explosive January 2017 Politico exposé by Kenneth Vogel and David Stern – “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire” – that formed the basis for the FEC complaint against her and the DNC was “malicious” and filled with “false accusations” against her. She also speculated that Vogel was used by Trump operatives who “planted” the story with Politico to create a “counternarrative” to distract attention from the Russiagate narrative, which was raging at the time thanks to the January 2017 leaking of the Steele dossier.
“It is worth noting that in late 2017, I met with Ken Vogel for almost two hours and Vogel apologized to me for the Politico article and offered to write another one for the New York Times [where he now works] to clarify the truth,” Chalupa said. However, she said she no longer trusted the award-winning investigative reporter and declined the offer.
Vogel, who now reports for the New York Times, did not respond to requests for comment, but Politico has not retracted its story or appended any corrections to it. And Chalupa has not attempted to sue the news site for libel. That would be difficult, since she doesn’t deny telling Vogel that Ukrainian Embassy officials were “helpful” to her crusade to raise the alarm about Manafort and Trump, or that they provided “guidance,” though she contends she was “sleep deprived” when he called and asked her about it. She also doesn’t deny telling Vogel she traded information and leads with the embassy.
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Paul Sperry is an investigative reporter for RealClearInvestigations. He is also a longtime media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Sperry was previously the Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily, and his work has appeared in the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Houston Chronicle, among other major publications.
Photo “Alexandra Chalupa” by Alexandra Chalupa. Background Photo “The Kremlin” by. DEZALB.